Business Cover

Bank On It Entrepreneur of the Year Mike Maraist might be soft spoken and eager to praise others, but friends and business associates who know him best trust him the most.

by Billy Gunn

Entrepreneur of the Year Mike Maraist might be soft spoken and eager to praise others, but friends and business associates who know him best trust him the most.

Photo by Robin May

Michael Phillip Maraist was born into banking and grew from boy to man in the rough and tumble of 1960s Morgan City, where his father was a banker.

Now chairman of Lafayette-based and publicly traded Home Bank, Maraist learned early the nature of finance, where to plant investment dollars, when the asking price for an asset was too much, and how important and right it is to leave everyone involved in a deal walking away a winner.

“I’ve tracked his career as I’ve tracked my own,” says Paul Durand, president and CEO of St. Martin Bank & Trust Co., which competes with Home Bank.

Durand attended elementary school with Maraist in St. Martinville until the fourth grade, when Maraist’s family moved to Morgan City after his father Louis took the helm of the newly opened Morgan City Bank.

“I would say that Mike is extremely good at anything and everything he does,” Durand notes.

He’s done a lot, though getting Maraist, 69, to elaborate on his successes is somewhat difficult. Soft spoken, he deflects praise to others, such as his account on why Frank’s International wanted to buy Timco Services, which Maraist owned for years before selling in 2015.

“It was because I had really good people,” Maraist insists. “We worked hard in the service business developing a culture. Our people told the truth and had good core values.”

He also credits his family — especially his wife Naomi — with understanding why he’s often away from home.

“I have for many years traveled a lot,” Maraist says. “I love my family, and Naomi has allowed me to do this.”

Those who’ve been in business with Mike Maraist also have made out very well.

“He was always very generous with his partners,” says Maraist’s longtime attorney and childhood friend, Gerald deLaunay, who also befriended Maraist when they were boys in St. Martinville. The attorney has always marveled at how his friend makes — and keeps — friends.

“He’ll never be alone,” deLaunay says. “Whenever I have traveled with him he knows somebody. I don’t care where we were.”

Maraist has headed up myriad businesses connected to banking, property development and the oilfield services sector. Peruse the corporate page on the Louisiana secretary of state’s website, and Maraist’s name is listed among dozens of corporations. And that’s not including his holdings in other parts of the country.

But it was in banking that Maraist got his start, and his star burned bright early on. In his mid-20s, after graduation from what is now UL Lafayette, he was named president of Acadiana Bank in Eunice. After a few years, he left banking to purchase distressed oilfield service companies, returning most of them to profitability before selling them. He also developed retail properties, office complexes and other real estate ventures.

Those who’ve known him for years say he plays fair and that his charm and soft tone is no act. “He creates a mission. He’s hands-off, but he lets people know what his expectations are,” says Kirby Pécot, a Lafayette architect who has worked on projects with Maraist for two decades.

“His moral compass is perfect,” Pécot continues. “When he does deals he really wants to ensure everyone comes out OK, that there are no losers. One of his famous sayings is, ‘You can all take a look at it. I just want a chance to take the last bite out of the apple.’ And another one is, ‘I’m keeping my powder dry.’ That’s in case there is another deal around the corner.”

Maraist left the banking field for years before being persuaded to return in 2006 to lead Home Bank. That year was the centennial of the bank, which began as a thrift where the deposits from Lafayette residents were loaned to others wanting to build homes.

Home Bank’s longtime employees were apprehensive about Maraist at first, says John Bordelon, the 61-year-old CEO and president who started working for the bank 35 years ago.

“That was a challenge in itself. We brought him on not really knowing him,” Bordelon says. “But Mike and I met a few times and really hit it off.”

In 2008, Home Bank officials and Wall Street were preparing to take the bank public, and they couldn’t have chosen a more volatile year for banks: Financial institutions across the country that were heavily exposed to subprime lending were failing and threatening to take down the entire U.S. banking system.

“We were kind of told by a few people ‘this isn’t a good time,’” Bordelon recalls. “It was a little nerve wracking. The day we went public (Oct. 3, 2008) and sold $90 million worth of stock was the day they signed the TARP bill.”

Enacted by Congress to keep banks from failing, the Troubled Asset Relief Program distributed hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to U.S. banks. Even though most banks were healthy, especially the small community institutions, banks were pressed to accept the loans.

But Maraist, Bordelon and others at Home Bank, believing their bank was solid, refused the TARP loans.

“We had a very high capital-to-assets ratio, probably more than double that of most banks,” Bordelon says.

Home Bank has prospered, growing through acquisitions in parts of Louisiana and in Vicksburg and Natchez, Miss. In eight years it’s grown almost fourfold: in 2008, the bank held $400 million in assets; this year its balance sheet shows $1.55 billion in assets.

Bordelon says Maraist helped steer the bank to the right acquisitions.

“He’s a real quick study … and a handson boss when he needs to be,” Bordelon offers. “I consider our bank to be one of the strongest in the state. That’s a credit to Mike’s leadership.”

At a recent gathering at what is perhaps Maraist’s most well-known property — Le Triomphe Golf & Country Club — family and friends gathered in the clubhouse to wish his mother, Gertrude “Mimi” Maraist, a happy 100th birthday.

Photo by Robin May

Among those celebrating were Mike and Naomi and their 14-year-old son, Michael Auguste Maraist, whom they call Gus, a freshman at Ascension Episcopal School in Youngsville. Also there was Clare Maraist, 36, Mike’s daughter from his first marriage.

Clare flew in from her home in Santa Fe, N.M., where she too has become a successful property developer. But the project — high-end condominiums at the site of a former school designed in the early 20th century by famed Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem — took four years to build. One of the roadblocks she encountered is a hurdle many developers face: neighborhood opposition to change and the historical projects review board that blocked her original plan to turn the school, which had been abandoned for more than a decade, into arts studios and a coffeehouse.

“They didn’t trust me,” Clare remembers. So, she changed the plans to condominiums, which the board approved. The development, Manderfield on Canyon, was completed this past summer with units — eight of them — priced on average at $1.2 million each.

Maraist says his daughter’s determination and stamina over the course of the four-year project showed him that she was capable of managing, and adding to, the family’s wide array of property holdings in Louisiana and elsewhere. Though he doesn’t plan to retire soon, Maraist believes his daughter running that aspect of the family business makes sense.

But she’ll have to do so from afar, as she’s consistently resisted overtures to return to Louisiana. “I do not plan to move back here,” Clare says.

“I told her I’ve got a lot of real estate,” Maraist says. “I told her, ‘It’s going to be you. Your little brother’s only 14.’”