Commercial Progress Report

A Family Tradition

by Lisa Hanchey

A wise investment on the advice of her father secured Sue Brignac’s future — and an elite spot among top female bank executives in the state.

Burt Ortego, Sue Soileau Brignac and Buzz Durio
Photo by Robin May

Sue Soileau Brignac was born to be a banker. Her father, Nolen Soileau, invested in banking and farming before becoming a board member of Washington State Bank, the oldest state-chartered bank in St. Landry Parish and the second oldest state-chartered bank in Louisiana. But the genteel Southern belle never dreamed that one day she would be running the bank — and expanding her small-town roots to Lafayette.

After graduating from the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, she went to UL Lafayette, obtaining a bachelor of fine arts in music education. She married David Creig Brignac Sr., and worked as a teacher. During their marriage, her father encouraged the couple to invest shares in the bank — an investment that ended up securing their future.

When Nolen Soileau died unexpectedly in 1983, Brignac’s husband became Washington State Bank’s new president. For 10 years, Brignac served by his side as executive vice president of the bank. After her husband’s death in November 2009, Brignac was elevated to president and chief executive officer at the now 121-year-old institution, becoming one of only three female bank CEOs in Louisiana at that time.

During her rise to the top, Brignac was actively involved in the community, serving in several positions on the St. Landry/Opelousas Chamber of Commerce, including chairman of the board in 2006. Her contributions to the St. Landry Parish community earned her the chamber’s Business Person of the Year Award in 2001 and 2005. She has served as a commissioner of the St. Landry Parish Economic Industrial Development District for more than 20 years, serving as chairman from 1999-2001. Additionally, she is a member of the Rotary Club of Opelousas, garnering the Rotarian of the Year Award in 2003. In 1998, she won the Athena Award, which honors outstanding women in business. She presently serves on the Executive Committee of the Committee of 100 for Economic Development Inc.

Brignac’s accomplishments were so impressive that Lafayette’s business leaders took notice. In 2010, ABiz honored her among its Women Who Mean Business Award winners. Now Brignac has officially become a part of the Lafayette community by opening a WSB branch in River Ranch.

In 2013, Brignac leased a 1,000-square-foot space facing Stonemont Road in River Ranch, which currently houses the bank’s local executive offices. She then leased space just around the corner for the bank’s main office in the former Cena location at 1042 Camellia Boulevard, Suite 9 (the office is actually accessed from Bradbury Crossing). “For many years I desired to expand into Lafayette because of the opportunities there,” she says. “I wanted to be in River Ranch. The location is working out well for us.”

Inside the office are warm brick floors, old cedar barn doors and thick moldings, giving the offices a homey feel. Along the walls are paintings of Cajun swamp scenery and a fais do-do by Arnaudville-based artist Vincent Darby. “I wanted our customers to feel comfortable here,” Brignac says. “We have many customers who just drop by to have a cup of coffee with us.”

Prominently displayed in the executive annex lobby is an impressive 230-year-old-plus safe, which housed the first share of Washington State Bank was acquired by Brignac’s father from the Wolf family, who founded the bank. This treasured keepsake is a reminder of the Soileau family’s legacy in Washington State Bank.

To run the Lafayette branch, Brignac selected a team of experienced bankers including Burt Ortego, chief lender and executive vice president and Glenn Decou, senior vice president and commercial lender, and newcomer Shiloh Kidder. Other locations are in Opelousas, Arnaudville, Leonville and Palmetto. Serving on the board of directors are Brignac, Elbert L. Guillory, Rev. Dale Hensarling, David Prochaska and Harold Stelly.

Washington State Bank offers full-service banking for both commercial and personal clients. For individuals, WSB features checking and savings accounts, health savings accounts, IRAs and certificates of deposit, and personal loans. On the business side, the bank offers commercial checking and loans. Just added is a WSB mobile app, which allows customers to view their accounts in real time, pay bills, process transfers, find locations/ATMs, view alerts and submit deposits.

Because it is a locally owned community bank, WSB gets to know its customers personally. Many of them have been with the bank since Brignac’s father helmed the institution. “I believe in long-term relationships,” Brignac says.