SunTrust’s Atlanta ties strengthened with new CEO

By Maria Saporta
Friday, April 29, 2011

A hometown executive soon will be taking the reins of SunTrust Banks Inc. , the largest financial institution based in Atlanta.

The naming of William H. Rogers Jr. as SunTrust’s next CEO reinforces the bank’s Atlanta roots, and it could enhance the possibility that the institution will remain an independent bank based in the city.

Rogers spent his professional career at SunTrust, first joining its predecessor bank — Trust Company Bank of Georgia — in 1980. In his 31-year career with the bank, Rogers had executive responsibilities over corporate and investment banking, consumer banking, real estate banking, and wealth management, among other business lines.

He was promoted to serve as SunTrust’s president in December 2008, and chief operating officer in November 2010. And on April 21, the bank announced that Rogers will become chairman and CEO on June 1.

Rogers will succeed James M. Wells III, who has been CEO since January 2007. Wells, who turns 65 in May, will continue to serve on the board as executive chairman through the end of the year. Wells, who spent most of his career in Virginia, joined SunTrust after the bank’s acquisition in 2000 of Crestar Financial Corp., where Wells served as president.

Doug Ivester, SunTrust’s lead director, who is a former CEO of The Coca-Cola Co., said the bank’s (NYSE: STI) Atlanta ties will remain strong under Rogers’ leadership.

“I think Bill is fabulously well-qualified,” Ivester said. “The most important thing is that he’s got the respect of his team. The bank is in a great place right now. I can proudly say that SunTrust is an Atlanta-based bank, and I think it always will be.”

Rogers grew up in North Carolina and got a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina.

“I started with Trust Company fresh out of school,” Rogers said. While at the bank, he got his MBA from Georgia State University.

Rogers said he doesn’t necessarily view himself as an Atlanta executive. “I would rather be labeled the SunTrust guy,” Rogers said. “But I do have an appreciation for the legacy of the company here and in this city.”

The day after he was named as the next CEO, American Banker’s headline was: “Can New CEO Keep SunTrust Independent?”

While the headline was a bit sobering for Rogers, he said there have been rumors of a possible takeover of the Atlanta bank nearly every year of his career.

“We will determine our own future by our performance and how we do,” Rogers said. “I’m convinced we have got the people, the market strategies and the opportunities to do that.”

Although he didn’t have an Atlanta background, Wells was able to keep SunTrust an independent, Atlanta-based institution during his tenure as CEO.

“We have a deep, long-standing culture of being involved in all of our communities, including Atlanta,” Wells said. “And Bill is a product of that culture.”

Former SunTrust CEO Jimmy Williams celebrated the choice of Rogers, and not just because of his Atlanta background.

“If Bill Rogers came out of Virginia, he would have been the right guy,” Williams said. “But it does feel good to have one of my lifelong associates get the job.”

Then Williams added that he gives Wells “nothing but good marks.” As for SunTrust remaining as an Atlanta-based bank, Williams said, “We are counting on it.”

Meanwhile, at SunTrust’s annual meeting on April 26, there was a change in the composition of its board.

Two directors did not stand for re-election — Larry Prince, retired CEO of Genuine Parts Co., who had reached the retirement age; and Karen Hastie Williams, a retired lawyer from Washington, D.C., who stepped down because of other pressing commitments.

Also, last September, SunTrust director Patricia Frist of Nashville, Tenn., retired as director. Those changes meant that SunTrust had lost its two women directors.

So at the 2011 annual meeting, SunTrust elected Kyle Prechtl Legg, former CEO of Legg Mason Capital Management. She now is SunTrust’s sole woman director.

“We need to do something about that,” Legg said after the meeting.

Wells and Rogers seemed to agree.

“We are very conscious of the benefits of diversity on the board,” Wells said. “We work at it, and we will continue to do so.”

Rogers said: “We respect and understand the value of diversity on our board and on our team.”

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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