Joe Evans wasn't sent to college to discover the meaning of life or to "find himself." He was sent to college for one primary reason: "to make myself employable," the 1971 industrial management graduate says matter-of-factly.
Evans' father didn't go to college, but a relative, Fitzhugh Penn, was a Georgia Tech graduate. "I can remember hearing from an early age that, in good times and bad, Fitzhugh could always get a job," Evans recalls. "My dad would say, 'You need to go to Georgia Tech.' My family thought Georgia Tech was the best college we could afford that would serve me to that end, and I think they were absolutely right."
Evans majored in management because he wanted a business education with a quantitative background — a distinction that marked a Tech degree then and now — as he contemplated a future in business.
Move into Banking
As an undergraduate, Evans' interest in banking was sparked by his involvement in a research project with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta that was a feasibility study on the possibility of direct deposit of government payroll and benefit checks.
"Early on I got to see some of the changes that appeared to be taking banking in an exciting new direction," he says.
After Tech, where he graduated first in his class, Evans began a career that started at Trust Company Bank (now SunTrust) and has led to his present position as chairman and CEO of Atlanta-based State Bank Financial Corp. and its operating subsidiary, State Bank and Trust.
Evans' interest in banking goes back to his youth, growing up on a dairy farm in Smarr, Ga.
"A local banker was a close family friend," Evans recalls. "He had been very helpful to my family's farming operation through some difficult times, and I saw the gratitude that they felt toward him. So early on I had a very positive impression about what bankers did, and I thought it was a neat way to make a living."
The six-generation family farm remains an important part of Evans' life, except that now it's a beef operation with about 150 brood cows.
"I spend just about all my weekends down there helping out on the farm," he says. "So I get to lead two very different lives that I very much enjoy."
Georgia Tech remains a significant part of his life as well. Evans is a former chair of the Scheller College's Advisory Board and an inductee of its Academy of Distinguished Alumni. In 2009, he founded the Dean's Scholarship Program and, with his wife, endowed three Raena W. and Joseph W. Evans Dean's Scholarships (a total of $300,000 investment). The couple had previously funded the College's first expendable-term scholarship.
Asked why he supports the Scheller College, Evans cites two reasons.
"One is simply appreciation," he explains. "I realize how Tech developed me and prepared me for my career, and I attribute a lot of the business success that I've enjoyed to the preparation I got at Tech. Giving back is both a way of saying 'thank you' and ensuring that other generations have the same opportunity for the life -changing experience at Tech that I had."
The other reason, says Evans, is enlightened self interest. "The reputational value of a Scheller degree is much greater today than it was 40 years ago, in large part because of the investment that alumni who came before me made in the College. I think all of us have a very personal interest in ensuring that the reputational value of our degree increases, and I am motivated to see that this continues."
While a number of factors make it difficult to compare the Georgia Tech of four decades ago to the Institute of today, some things haven't changed, according to Evans.
"We were instilled with a work ethic. We were challenged to think as problem solvers, and they literally worked the hell out of us. As a result, all of us who graduated from Tech walked out with a little bit of a swagger — it's like what Frank Sinatra sang about New York City: If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
"That hasn't changed. I believe that the rigor and discipline Tech instilled 40 years ago is still part of the DNA of a Tech student. It's what we carry into the workforce. I think it's one of the reasons why our graduates are so highly ranked by recruiters, and it's something that makes me very proud."