Tennessee bank CEO Bryan Jordan’s deep N.C. roots

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Bryan Jordan, perhaps the most successful banker to come out of Salisbury since Wall Street legend Julian Robertson, had a cool homecoming last week.

The CEO of Memphis-based First Horizon National Corp., which operates First Tennessee Bank, was promoting a financial literacy program aimed at the huge slice of citizenry who don’t or can’t save money for the inevitable rainy days. The event was held at a Capital Bank branch in east Salisbury, acquired when First Horizon bought the Charlotte-based company for $2.2 billion last December.

I talked with Jordan about merger savings and Capital’s ambitions to grow faster than competitors in the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham regions. But the neat part of the event was seeing Jordan’s wife, Kim, his father, David, and his in-laws, Carol and J.R. Dunkley, amid a crowd of Salisbury civic and business leaders.

Jordan graduated from Salisbury High School and Catawba College, Class of 1984. After working as a CPA at KPMG, he worked for First Union Corp. in Charlotte for nine years, later moving to  Birmingham, Ala.-based Regions Financial Corp and then First Horizon. He became CEO at age 46 in 2009, about the time the company was selling its mortgage business to avoid a forced sale amid the financial-industry collapse.

Since then, First Horizon has had a nice rebound, along with many other banks. Its shares now trade about three times higher than its low point in 2011, and Jordan has been rewarded with regular appearances on Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money’ show on CNBC and annual compensation topping $10 million last year, including  a $5.5 million bonus.

First Horizon is retaining the Capital brand in North Carolina and has no plans to exit the smaller cities where it operates, says Rick Manley, who heads Capital’s Carolinas, Virginia and north Florida regions.

That’s good news for Salisbury, whose reputation as a prominent business city has faded over the years as it has become perhaps better known as a bedroom community for Charlotte. During Jordan’s high-school and college years, locally owned Food Lion was growing dramatically, and Fiber Industries (later German chemical giant Hoechst Celanese) employed a couple thousand people, including several hundred highly educated chemists. It also sported some locally owned banks, including Home Savings and Loan, which Ralph Jordan led for many years before its 1995 sale to Central Carolina Bank.  (SunTrust later acquired CCB.)

Salisbury remains a vibrant city that has to scrap harder than ever. Fortunately, it’s obvious Bryan Jordan isn’t forgetting his roots.

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