BB&T’s CEO on the Triad and the “world’s best leadership program”
BB&T CEO Kelly King and about 150 bank and community officials celebrated the opening of the bank’s Leadership Institute in Greensboro last week.
The tree-shrouded campus near Piedmont Triad International Airport will train leaders at BB&T and other companies and offer programs geared toward public-school principals. After a speech discussing man’s search for meaning, the importance of personal responsibility and compassion for others — not typical bank CEO jargon — King shared a few more thoughts in an interview. Comments are edited for brevity and clarity.
Why did you say this will be the best training program in the world?
I base it on personal observations and the content of our program, which is really powerful. Most leadership programs are focused on more academic parts of leadership.
That’s fine, it’s good to learn principles. But no one has ever become a really effective leader until they’ve become in touch with themselves.
What we do is combine the theoretical aspects of leadership with the personal, psychological aspects.
What is an underlying theme of this training?
We all carry baggage from early in our life. What that causes is one creates an exterior personality. Sometimes we’re dictatorial, control oriented, sometimes we shy away from conflict. All of that goes back to when you were 3, 4, 5 years old. It’s all in our subconscious.
So we are holding these irrational thoughts at an adult level and you think, that is the way it has to be.
When you go through our program, you begin to get in touch with yourself. You say I’m scared of this and it doesn’t make any sense. But I don’t have to feel inferior. I can change.
And 98% or 99% of the people walk away from the program saying this is transformational.
Does this building suggest BB&T’s long-term commitment to the Triad?
We don’t have any plans to move. We like the Triad. We’ve been here 33 years and our predecessor organizations have been here longer. It’s big enough.
Frankly the Triad needs us; it needs strong corporate leaders. The Triad has gone through a trying period in terms of its economic growth. It’s lost many of its major long-term corporate citizens. We feel like we have an opportunity to make a difference.
The financial world is changing. Faster than any other time in my career by a long shot. So I could never promise that we will be here forever. But we like it here a lot.
Is it hard to recruit talented people to the Triad?
Over the last couple decades as certain companies have gone away or downsized, frankly, lots of young people have left to go to places like Charlotte or Raleigh which are viewed as more cosmopolitan.
So we’re working really hard to make sure there are good jobs. That’s job No. 1. Then we want to have good sports and cultural events. Downtown Winston-Salem and the Innovation Quarter are exciting places and young people are flocking there. Greensboro and Elon and High Point also have a lot of stuff going on.
So good jobs and an attractive place to stay, especially if you are young, is the formula for this community to have a more vibrant future.
In your speech you said the U.S. public-school system is failing, and the new institute is addressing the problem by offering training for public-school principals. What is the reasoning?
I’m a big supporter of public schools, but I’m also a big supporter of fixing the problem. It’s more complex than the people in Raleigh think. They think we just hire more teachers and pay teachers more.
I’m for that. But it’s more complex than that. The system is inefficient, the funding is misallocated and we have this growing problem about third-graders’ inability to read. That overwhelms everything else.
A principal is like running a small business. And they’ve never had one hour of leadership training. So that was our first notion: How can we help the schools and principals be better leaders?
Do you see bank mergers picking up speed as regulatory burdens lessen?
Yes. But the biggest change we’ve had wasn’t about the Dodd Frank law, which we’ve had for nine years. it was about changes in the people running the regulatory bodies.The big issue was that those people fundamentally believed that banks caused the problems of the 2007-09 recession, that we had to put bankers in jail and we had to beat ‘em up. It was just unfair and untrue.
We have new heads at the Office of the Comptroller of Currency, FDIC and Federal Reserve and they are more practical at looking at the problems. Banks are basically the economic engine of creating jobs and supporting the community. We’re not the bad guys.
Are you worried about a trade war?
No I’m not worried.
I think we’re in a highlighted bluff game. You’ve got people who view themselves as expert negotiators and gamesmanship people and I think that’s a lot of what all this is.
Ultimately, I think you have really smart people behind the scenes in the U.S. and China and other countries. Ultimately, rationality will prevail. Over the next six months, I think it will settle down.