Customer Spotlight: Saddle Creek Title

The following article ran in the March 2014 edition of The Shield newsletter. To read the rest of the newsletter, please visit


Neal Hanna

While starting a title company in 2006 may not have been the most opportune timing, Neal Hanna, owner of Saddle Creek Title, has led his company to growth and success during a time that was difficult in the financial and real estate industries.

In 2005, Neal and his family moved from Colorado to Memphis. Neal practiced law in a partnership for a year and a half before deciding to set off on his own and start Saddle Creek Title Company. Soon the financial crisis began to unfold, which Neal describes as “a vivid nightmare,” coupled with the fact that after three weeks into his new business, his wife announced that child number four was on the way! In order to grow and succeed in spite of the declining market, Neal says, “I did a lot of work with investors. I actually got busier as the traditional market went down and down. My business kind of had an inverse relationship.”

Fortunately, Saddle Creek Title Company has also been able to experience firsthand the gradual rebound of the real estate market. When asked how he has seen this unfold, Neal says “We’re getting a lot of business from realtors, aside from the fact that I see the ‘For Sale’ signs come and go pretty quickly in my neighborhood. We’re definitely getting volume through here from buyers and sellers. The traditional owner-occupied stuff is coming through.”

After dealing with larger banks for several years, Neal has enjoyed the perks Paragon can offer as a community bank. “I like the smaller bank. You can pick up the phone and have somebody help you with the problem. At [previous banks], I’d get stuck trying to send a wire, and it would take me an hour and a half to try to find somebody to walk me through those steps. It was frustrating.”

Neal and his employees also enjoy the ease of Paragon’s online banking, especially its efficiency and the ability to log in over the web or on a phone anytime, anywhere. Recently when a suggestion arose to switch banks over fees, Neal stood firm in his loyalty to Paragon. “To me the relationship is important. I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that over some fees. It’s worth it to me,” Neal said.

Neal grew up in Waco, Texas, and headed to Colorado after high school to pursue rock climbing. His rock climbing passions led to a Top-40 US ranking, competitions around the US and in Europe, and participation in the first ESPN Extreme Games. Realizing that rock climbing was not a feasible long-term career choice, Neal buckled down and completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Colorado in two and a half years and then attended law school at SMU. He practiced law in Texas and Colorado before moving to Memphis. Neal and his wife Krista have four children, daughters ages fourteen and seven and sons eleven and ten.

Neal is now enjoying the fresh burst of business that has come from the rebounding housing market and looks forward to more future growth.

Director’s Corner: J. T. Novarese

The following article ran in the March 2014 edition of The Shield newsletter. To read the rest of the newsletter, please visit

When asking J.T. Novarese what he does, one might expect him to answer with one of the many items from his diverse and impressive resume as an executive, an entrepreneur, and a venture-capital investor.  Instead, J.T. responds, “Out of all the things I’ve been involved with, when people ask me what I do, I say “I’m a dad. Being a dad is the coolest job I’ve ever had. It’s what I’d liked to be defined as.” From the start of his professional career to his present endeavors, it is evident that J.T.’s focus on family and the important things in life continue to be his driving force.

J.T.’s grandfather, who owned and operated Pop Tunes Records, played an influential role in his life, hiring J.T. right out of college in 1989. But his grandfather’s influence goes back further than this job offer to J.T.’s freshman year of high school. “My granddad came to me and said, ‘I’d like for you to go to Christian Brothers. Do it for me, give me one year. I’ll pay for it.’” J.T. explains that, after the first semester which he hated and during which he made plans to join his friends elsewhere for his sophomore year, he learned to love CBHS.  He stayed four years, and he eventually also spent four years at Christian Brothers University, a time that J.T. describes as being in his “sweet spot.”

J.T. worked part-time for his grandfather at Pop Tunes from the age of 16. After he graduated from college, his grandfather extended him a full-time job offer, which J.T. accepted and then quickly began to grow the business, more than doubling their retail locations. Too soon, however, the music industry began to take a very quick turn to digital downloads, rendering brick-and-mortar record stores obsolete. With a heavy heart, J.T. was able to sell his grandfather’s 50-year-old company in 2001 to a Nashville record company.  J.T. credits his time with Pop Tunes as an influential part of his development as a person and as a professional. He says, “I got my degree from the Brothers, but my education from my granddad.  Working alongside him, I learned so much.  I’ll never forget that part of my life.”

His time spent orchestrating the growth and eventual sale of Pop Tunes fostered J.T.’s entrepreneurial drive and led to multiple ventures with which he is currently involved. “One of the things that has been the most fun,” J.T. says, “is building businesses and growing businesses. After I sold the record shop, I fell into this place where I bought and sold companies and started investing in startups, and it kind of evolved into a career.” Eventually, J.T. partnered with Andrew Forsdick at Addison Capital Advisors, a venture capital firm. The hands-off position of a minority investor in private equity deals did not appeal to J.T. and Andrew, and Addison Capital provided a way to be more involved in these companies from an operational and managerial standpoint.

In addition to his involvement with Addison Capital, J.T. started a new company in July 2013 that combines a smart chip and a lubricant in HVAC systems to provide powerful energy savings. Also on his plate are ventures with a software company that works in application development, a startup in telemedicine, and the acquisition of a local business. When asked if the improved economy has led to better opportunities, J.T. elaborates on his role in helping these businesses. He says, “They don’t all need money.  Some of these need business development, some need marketing, some need strategic planning, and some need all of the above. At the end of the day, to have pieces of a lot of things and to have your hand in a lot of things is kind of fun.”

In addition to his business ventures, J.T. has held many nonprofit roles including serving as President of the Alumni Board at CBU for several years, serving nine years on the CBU Board of Trustees, and being involved with Make-A-Wish. He currently serves on the Bishop’s Diocese and Development Board and the St. Agnes Development Committee. One of his current efforts is the Tanya Novarese Endowment for Families in Crisis, which honors J.T.’s late wife and former beloved Paragon Team Member, Tanya Novarese, who lost her battle with cancer in 2008. The scholarship fund was J.T.’s way of giving back to St. Agnes and St. Dominic, schools that had provided stability and support during a painful time in the life of his family.  “The school is such a safe haven. I thought we were pretty alone at the time. I’m really proud that we’ve established this scholarship in Tanya’s name,” says J.T.  He also hopes that someday his children, Halle, a freshman at St. Agnes, and J.T., a sophomore at CBHS, can get involved.

J.T. got involved with Paragon’s Board of Directors through Andy Taylor, Paragon’s Executive Vice President and Senior Special Assets Officer, who had been J.T.’s banker when he was at Pop Tunes. They crossed paths again while waiting for their daughters who were attending a birthday party, and Andy began discussions on how J.T. could be involved with Paragon. Despite his initial protestations, J.T. eventually relented and joined Paragon’s Board as a valuable and integral member. J.T. says, “I’m glad they were persistent because I am proud to be part of such a phenomenal group.”