World Traveler Makes His Way back to the Kanawha Valley
by Scott Kinard
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mark Bias has lived, worked and studied all around the world, including Paris and Normandy, Milan and Brussels. This opportunity arose with his interest in continuing his education following graduation at West Virginia University, and through his position with what is now PNC Bank. Today, however, he is celebrating 20 years since returning home to Charleston from the bustle of European city life, envisioning other businesses taking root in the heart of Appalachia.
He rose to the level of a PNC-Italy vice president by the end of a 10-year period, a good portion of which was spent living overseas. During one of his short stints back in the states, he realized he was thankful for the experience, but wanted to come home to his family: “It was an awesome experience, but I began to long for the mountains, the hills, and the streams. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”
“I put on a suit and walked downtown one day, walking into every bank,” said Bias; he took the advice of a friend’s father who pointed to the fact that with Bias’ experience, he didn’t have to work outside the country.
The then One Valley Bank followed up with an interview and hired him. He began working there in 1988 and later becoming the senior vice president of its successor company, BB&T.
Bias connects the state’s well-known work ethic with the accomplishments of BB&T in the Mountain State. After working for so long at such a large bank, he was worried about making the transition to the then much smaller One Valley. It would not take him long to realize this wasn’t the case. “The level of talent at One Valley was extraordinary,” he said.
A combination of the former bank’s legacy, BB&T’s high investment in employee training and its holding of the largest market share in the state, he says, creates today’s success. Not only that, but how well the people receive one another creates a good working environment. “Working outside of West Virginia, I didn’t have the sense of belonging I have here,” Bias said. “We have a strong sense of being West Virginians.”
Knowing what it’s like to live in large cities for so many years, the executive thinks businesses need to look at the wide spectrum of activities available here when deciding where to locate. “I lived in so many cities and I longed for open spaces,” he said. Citing specifically the capital city, he says someone can go hunting, to the ballet, to a state park, or to a baseball game without the hassles of big cities. “It has the amenities of a larger city and the richness of art and culture, but low crime and traffic.”
Another reason he says West Virginia offer a prime market is because of its stable economy, one that does not go along with fast economic booms—thus its resistance to the foreclosure crisis. When the national economy is hurting, the state’s usually remains the same.
The message Bias sends to fellow Mountaineers who haven’t yet “come home” is to look at the prospects their true home has to offer. “They’d be welcome back with open arms,” he said.