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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

McColl interview provides interesting Charlotte lookback

It’s almost two months old, but a podcast involving Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias and Hugh McColl Jr. provides a fascinating history lesson for folks interested in Charlotte and North Carolina. Axios Charlotte did a story, but the podcast got limited media attention.

Elias is CEO of the Fort Mill, S.C.-based media company that was valued at more than $11 billion in 2021, according to a New York Times story. He is a good friend of McColl, which facilitated an unusually candid 55-minute discussion. Elias marveled at how Bank of

Hugh McColl

America’s market value soared from $700 million to $84 billion during McColl’s 18-year CEO tenure, which ended at age 66 in 2001.

Since then, McColl, 88, has formed six businesses, including two art galleries and two private-investment groups. The most successful has been Falfurrias Capital Partners, a PE group led by McColl, former BofA CFO Marc Oken and Ed McMahan. Falfurrias has had a string of successful investments. In 2021, it raised $850 million for its fifth fund.

Here are some of the highlights from the podcast:

  • McColl decided when he was about 80 that he’s going to live to 100. “It’s an important attitude,” he says. He has good doctors and practices preventative maintenance.
  • His team played the critical role in changing state and federal banking laws to enable interstate expansion. They were aided by Bill Clinton, who McColl met one night at a Georgia motel before the Arkansas governor became president. They talked in Clinton’s room from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., while Hillary Clinton tried to sleep in a nearby bed. The banker recalls Bill Clinton eating a bucket of fried chicken.
  • McColl is “much more pleased at what I’ve been able to accomplish as a citizen” than as a banker.
  • He says “the biggest weakness we have in America today is the media.” There’s too much opinionating and not enough reporting, he says. He once discussed buying the Charlotte Observer with the late Dick Spangler, a billionaire investor who was BofA’s biggest shareholder for decades.
  • McColl grew up as a Baptist in Bennettsville, South Carolina because his great-great grandfather built a Baptist church on family land for an itinerant minister who wanted to marry his daughter. McColl later became a Presbyterian after marrying his wife, Jane.
  • He remains a Democrat partly because the party has always controlled Charlotte politically and it helps him maintain influence. The city’s Democratic coalition of Black politicians and White business leaders has largely split, but McColl says he’s become increasingly liberal as he’s gotten older.
  • McColl says he has always wanted to be in charge, ever since his childhood, and he works better that way. An exception is his membership at the elite Augusta National club, where the chairman has total control. “We don’t have opinions at Augusta,” which runs The Masters golf tournament.
  • He also isn’t always in charge at home, he adds. The key to his 64 years of marriage (as of Oct. 3) is “surrender. The key is doing what you are told.” He praised Jane McColl for her critical role as a mother, spouse, confidant and supporter.
  • Many years ago, he served on the UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees for one meeting, then quit after concluding it wasn’t worth his time. “If you don’t care what I think about something, you can’t expect me to come back.” Still, he has been a major supporter of  his alma mater, which named its business school building after McColl.
  • He recently accepted an appointment to the UNC Charlotte Board of Trustees because he wants to assist Chancellor Sharon Gaber, who McColl says “wants to bring the university in contact with the city for the first time ever, really … It’s the biggest jewel we don’t really say anything about.” (That comment might surprise former Chancellors Phil Dubois and Jim Woodward, who led the university between 1989 and 2020, and a host of former UNC Charlotte trustees including veteran BofA executives Joe Price and Cathy Bessant and local business leaders Susan DeVore, Mac Everett, Gene Johnson, Fred Klein, Robert Niblock and others.)
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at dmildenberg@businessnc.com.

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