Close’s Corner: The art of the board room

Until the last 10 years or so I would routinely take my check to the bank to deposit. Like others, I waited in line until I stood before the old marble countertop at what was then called Second National Bank.

Everything was done on paper. I even remember when my savings account book would be initialed and stamped by the bank teller to memorialize my deposit.

The bank expanded. The lobby was reoriented to take on more customers and the old marble top tellersâ?? stations were retired. And, on any given Friday, one stood in line to do business with the bank.

Things began to change. Electronic banking began. The bank lobby emptied. Second National sold out and now the old building acts as a branch office for the current bank owner ­­whatever it is called this week ­­rather than as the fully functioning headquarters of a thriving local independent bank.

I was struck again by the shift in culture and business taking place all around us when I attended the organizational meeting for the proposed arts center there in the old Second National Bank building. Last Sunday we all entered the building by the basement entrance and boarded an elevator. Upon exiting the elevator we traversed twisting hallways until we were ushered into a large room dominated by a wooden table that looked more like the deck of a ship than any table Iâ??ve ever seen before.

We talked. At one point one participant, and a friend, used the expression â??blah, blah, blahâ? to laughter. Again, later, we heard the refrain again as a joke. I laughed ­­ because it was funny. But, at the same time, I was struck by the incongruity of it all. We were sitting in the old board room of Second National Bank and using terminology from a Seinfeld episode. A board room that witnessed the leaders of Culpeper make financial decisions of great import. Financial decisions, I am sure, that shape our community to this day. A board room that was the nerve center of the bank ­­ and I suspect off limits to all but directors and bank officers. And we were there discussing art and artistic expression and the qualities of visual art versus performance art.

Certainly I cannot imagine discussions of this nature going on in this inner sanctum when it was in its fullness.

Down the hallway office suites are now being rented. One of those suites is occupied by a new startup company named FnnTEK, Inc. Its purpose is to invent a way to create artificial intelligence for the cyber world.

I talked to the founder, William Sadler, this week about the company and about the research he and others are involved in to create this new technology. As we spoke and afterwards, I reflected on how the world will continue to change. What board rooms, what inner sanctums of the present, will become redundant? Just as those old board members of Second National Bank could not have foreseen the advent of online banking and the effect of that on their own institution, I suspect there are other sanctuaries of influence and wealth that will disappear as new such centers arise.

Wouldnâ??t it be interesting if one of those new technologies is being created right now in Culpeper, through FnnTEK, down the hall from the bank board room in the old Second National Bank Building?

I find a delightful irony in that. Donâ??t ask me why. I just do.

Gary Close is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at g57close@aol.com.