Column: Atlantan’s influence on bank boards waning

By Maria Saporta – Friday, July 17, 2009

Back in the day, metro Atlantans were well-represented on the boards of the major banks doing business in the city.

But those days are over — particularly when looking at the boards of  Bank of America and the new Wells Fargo/ Wachovia Corp.

Two directors with Atlanta ties went off the Bank of America board in May — Jackie Ward, retired CEO of Computer Generation; and Patricia Mitchell, a television executive who serves as CEO of the Paley Center for Media in New York, but who spent much of her career in Atlanta at CNN.

Their departures leave the Bank of America board with only Walter Massey, former president of  Morehouse College, as someone who has recent ties to Atlanta. Massey, who now chairs the Bank of America board, considers himself a part-time Atlantan, but he considers Chicago to be his primary residence.

The Wells Fargo/Wachovia board is even more estranged from Atlanta.

For about three years, Wachovia has not had an Atlantan on its board since retired NSI Chairman Jim Balloun went off.

Wachovia was able to have four of its directors on the new Wells Fargo board — one from Florida, one from Alabama and two from North Carolina.

It’s a far cry from the influence Atlantans used to have on these bank boards not so long ago. But merger after merger combined with recent federal involvement in the banking sector has caused Atlantans to rotate off these bank boards.

The one striking exception is SunTrust, the largest bank still headquartered in Atlanta. Out of 13 outside directors, there are four from Atlanta — Pete Correll, chairman of Atlanta Equity Investors; Doug Ivester, president of  Deer Run Investments; J. Hicks Lanier, CEO of Oxford Industries; and Larry Prince, chairman of  Genuine Parts Co.’s executive committee. SunTrust CEO James Wells also lives in Atlanta.

But even at SunTrust, Atlanta’s influence has weakened. Fifteen years ago, half of SunTrust’s directors called Atlanta home.

Virgil Williams, a multifaceted Atlanta businessman who served on Bank of America’s board until five years ago, said Georgia’s presence on major bank boards has “diminished to almost nothing.”

In addition to Ward and Mitchell, other Atlantans on Bank of America’s board included developer Tom Cousins, Interface’s Ray Anderson and developer John Williams. Most joined the board after the North Carolina-based bank had made an acquisition, including C&S, Bank South and Barnett Bank.

“The Bank of America board at one time probably had more Atlantans than any other city, with the possible exception of Charlotte,” John Williams said. “They would take a full planeload of Atlantans up there for board meetings.”

Virgil Williams (no relation to John) said the lack of Atlantans on these boards hurts the city’s stature.

“Banking institutions are the backbone of our financial system,” he said. “For the business community to lose virtually all of its presence on these boards is significant. My belief is that it diminishes Atlanta’s presence in the financial markets.”

Wells Fargo/Wachovia spokesman Jay Lawrence said that while there may be no Atlantans on the bank’s board, “Atlanta is very, very important to us.”

Franklin to receive Four Pillar award

Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin will receive the Council for Quality Growth’s prestigious Four Pillar award at a dinner Oct. 8 at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Giving the award, now in its 20th year, to Franklin is a significant overture for an organization that has had its historical roots in Gwinnett County. But the council has become more regional in recent years.

Franklin also is the first African-American to be recognized with the Four Pillar award and only the second woman since it was established in 1990.

“That speaks pretty highly of Shirley,” said Mike Garrett, Georgia Power Co.’s president and CEO who is chairing and emceeing the dinner. “She’s done so much for us and made such a difference in Atlanta.

“There’s probably not anybody in this city who is more deserving, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
The honorary co-chairs of the dinner will be AT&T’s Sylvia Anderson Russell and Pete Correll, retired CEO of Georgia-Pacific.
Al Nash, a developer who is chairman of the Council for Quality Growth, said Franklin is an ideal honoree.
“Really she is an economic developer because she has helped foster growth in the region,” Nash said. “She’s a regional thinker. She’s reached out through her role at the Atlanta Region Commission and understands we have to think like a region.”
Rotary honors Portman
Internationally renowned Atlanta architect John Portman received the Rotary Club of Atlanta’s first Legends Award on July 13.
Portman, who designed and helped develop the Hyatt Regency, the Westin, the Marriott Marquis, Peachtree Center, AmericasMart and signature buildings across the world, seemed visibly moved.
“I’m very honored,” Portman said. “You are never really honored in your hometown, so the story goes. I don’t think I would have been able to accomplish what I have accomplished had it not been for Atlanta.”
Portman was introduced by Sam Williams, president of the  Metro Atlanta Chamber, who worked for Portman for 22 years, leaving during a difficult financial time for the firm in the 1990s when their relationship became rocky.
“He has been a mentor of mine, like a father to me,” Williams said during the introduction. “John taught me a lot.”
That meeting also was the first one for new Rotary President Bill Nordmark, who said the legacy award for Portman is the first of many the organization will be giving to leaders in the community.
Among some of the leaders on tap to receive Rotary awards are: former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young (July 27); sports columnist Furman Bisher (Aug. 3); former UGA athletics director Vince Dooley (Aug. 10); Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy (Sept. 14); retired Southern Co. CEO Bill Dahlberg (Oct. 19); and Atlanta Olympics leader Billy Payne (Nov. 16).

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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