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John Medlin, long time CEO of Wachovia Banks, passes away

By Maria Saporta

Influential Southern banker John Medlin passed away on June 7 after suffering from a heart attack while playing tennis. Medlin was 80 years old.

Medlin served as the CEO of Wachovia Corp. from 1977 to Dec. 31, 1993, and he served as board chairman from 1988 to April 1998. Wachovia was one of the financial institutions from North Carolina that acquired Atlanta banks after Georgia had failed to pass a statewide banking bill. Although it was called a merger of equals, Wachovia acquired First National Bank of Atlanta, also known as First Atlanta, in December, 1985.

John Medlin

Medlin was no stranger to Atlanta. He served as a director of Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp. as well as director to one of Atlanta’s legacy companies — National Service Industries.

He also served on numerous other corporate boards — Burlington Industries, Media General, RJR Nabisco and U.S. Airways. Medlin also was inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1995.

For decades, Wachovia and the Trust Company of Georgia (now SunTrust Banks) competed in the Southeast – but executives at both banks believed that a merger between the two would have been a perfect marriage.

But Wachovia ended up merging with First Union, and the merged company kept the well-respected Wachovia name but retained primarily First Union executives. Then that Wachovia was acquired by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo Bank.

Medlin also had another important tie to Atlanta. His daughter, Elizabeth, is married to Sheffield Hale, president and CEO of the Atlanta History Center.

Here is a more complete bio of John G. Medlin Jr:

Medlin retired from management of legacy Wachovia Corporation at the end of 1993 after 17 years as its CEO. He also was the bank’s non-executive chairman from 1994 to 1998. He retired from the board in 2000 after 41 years of service with Wachovia.

Education: He is a native of Benson, North Carolina and graduated from public schools in 1952. Elected President of the Student Council in high school. Graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1956 with a B.S. in Business Adminis¬tration. Active in campus affairs and inducted into Order of the Grail and Order of the Old Well, honorary societies.

Military Service: Officer in the U.S. Navy, 1956-1959. Served as Dis¬bursing Officer, Submarine Squadron 6, USS Orion (AS18), and Supply Officer, USS Barton (DD7¬22).

Business Career: Joined Wachovia Bank and Trust Company in 1959. Rose through various managerial positions. Was elected President and Chief Operat¬ing Officer of Wachovia Bank and Trust in 1974 and President and Chief Executive Officer of Wachovia Corporation and the bank effective January 1, 1977. During his seventeen years as Chief Executive, Wachovia’s assets grew tenfold and the compound annual rate of total return on its common stock was 17 percent.

Current Activities: He serves on the boards of the Senior Services, Inc. and the Triangle Universities Center for Advanced Studies, Inc. He chairs the Advisory Board of North Carolina Humanities Council and is on the Judicial Independence Committee of the North Carolina Bar Association.

Public Service Activities: He has served as a member of the State Judicial Council; chairman of the Commission for the Future of Justice and the Courts in North Carolina; vice-chairman of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Advisory Group of the United States Department of the Treasury; as a member and president of the Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve System; as a member of the Advisory Committee of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; the Market Oversight Advisory Committee of the Securities and Exchange Commission; the Advisory Board of the Export Import Bank; member and chairman of the North Carolina Governor’s Business Council on Management and Development; and member of the State Goals and Policy Board of North Carolina.

Corporate Boards: He is a former director of Akzona Corporation, BellSouth Corporation, Burling¬ton Industries, Inc. Carolina Power & Light Company, Hanes Corpora¬tion, Media General, Inc., Nabisco Holdings Corporation, National Service Industries, Inc., Norfolk Southern Corpo¬ration, Piedmont Airlines, Inc., R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings, Inc., RJR Nabisco Holdings Corporation, Summit Communica¬tions and US Airways Group, Inc.

Professional Associations: Has served as a member, director, and president of the Association of Reserve City Bankers; a member and director of the Interna¬tional Monetary Conference; a director and member of various committees and task forces of the American Bankers Association.
Professional Awards: Received the American Banker award as the most admired Chief Executive Officer in banking for 1991 and 1992, and its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. Selected by Financial World in 1990 as Chief Executive Officer of the Decade of the Eighties for South¬ern Banks and in 1993 as the best Chief Executive Officer in the nation. Inducted into the North Carolina Business Hall of Fame in 1995 and the North Carolina Banking Hall of Fame in 2004.

Other Boards: He has served on the boards of the Research Triangle Foundation, Duke Endowment, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Davidson College, Salem Academy and College, Wake Forest University, the Kenan Institute of the Arts, the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, the National Humanities Center, the National Urban League, the N. C. Community College Foundation, the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, the Citadel Development Foundation, the Winston-Salem Foundation, the Board of Visitors of the North Carolina School of the Arts and the Colgate Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia.

Honors: Accorded honorary doctorate degrees by Campbell University, Davidson College, North Carolina Central University, Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem State University. Received Distinguished Citizenship Awards of North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry, the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce and the Old Hickory Boy Scout Council.

Other Activities: Has formerly served as a trustee, treasurer, fund drive chairman, and president of the Winston-Salem Arts Council. Past president and member of W¬inston-Salem Rotary Club. Past director of Better Business Bureau, Citizens Coalition, Goodwill Industries Rehabilita¬tion Center, and the Heart Associa¬tion of North Carolina. Served in fund drive leadership positions for the United Negro College Fund and Winston-Salem State University.

Maria Saporta

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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