Money & Finance People and Companies

Tony Coley of BB&T

It isn’t clever mission statements or the values framed on a wall that employees and clients remember. It is the ones embodied by everyone in the organization, from the receptionist working at a small branch, to the highest C-Suite executive. Those define the character of that company.
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Coaching a Relational Culture

By Eric Wright

One of the world’s oldest maxims, in fact it has been dubbed the Golden Rule is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is simple, timeless and universal. Values like that shape the culture of a people and the culture of a company. However, it isn’t clever mission statements or the values framed on a wall that employees and clients remember. It is the ones embodied by everyone in the organization, from the receptionist working at a small branch, to the highest C-Suite executive. Those define the character of that company.

“It was the fact that BB&T lived their values and used them to guide their business and their decision making process that attracted me to this bank,” Antonio (Tony) Coley, regional president, Central Florida region of BB&T explained. “I saw it the first time I heard Kelly King, our CEO, speak after they took over Colonial Bank, where I was president of their South Florida commercial unit in 2009. I’ve seen ‘value statements’ displayed and you tend to go down them like a list and say, ‘that’s not true…that’s not true,’ but I found at BB&T their values, their mission and vision really are the basis of everything we do.”

Coley, an Academic All-American linebacker at the University of Miami, when they were more dreaded than Alabama or Ohio State are today, wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon when he was in college or perhaps a head coach. “Most people don’t know I was a health science major in college; but being a Division I college football student athlete was a full time job, so I couldn’t pursue pre-med as an undergrad. I actually got into banking, because they hired me. I went to a job fair after I graduated; it wasn’t some grand strategic plan.”

Banking though seems to come as naturally to the South Florida native as football did to this member of the Iron Arrow Honor Society, the University of Miami’s most prestigious recognition.

An Ongoing Legacy

Speaking of the role BB&T plays in the local economy Coley explained, “We are investing people’s hard earned deposits, so our niche isn’t venture opportunities, but we do actively invest in businesses that have established themselves and have developed a track record. That is where we step in, though BB&T does have a venture fund division. Fundamentally, we invest in people who share our values, who are transparent in their dealings and who treat their employees well. In fact the first thing I look at when I am involved in a company is what does their facility look like? You would be amazed, businesses that have neat well-kept facilities, usually have neat well-kept financials.”

It is that kind of personal, but conservative investment strategy that enabled BB&T to be a buyer, not just a survivor, during and after the most recent Great Recession. “We were one of the few banks that actually showed profits during that period; though beforehand when things were booming in real estate some analysts criticized us for not showing greater profitability,” Coley said. bbt-orlando

Of course having a history that dates back to 1872, when Alpheus Branch and Thomas Jefferson Hadley founded what later was called Branch Banking and Trust, provides a legacy that ensures an organization knows how to both weather storms and avoid unnecessary risks. Now headquartered in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, BB&T employs some 34,000 people, (830 of which are here in Central Florida), with over $132 billion in deposits, making $64 billion in commercial loans and $58 billion in retail loans.

Leading Local Success

Coley developed a turnaround reputation in his career by building and motivating his teams. Moving an organization from last to first is something he has done five times in his career, and he brought that remarkable record to Central Florida. For the five years before he came to Orlando, the region was either last or second to last in BB&T’s matrix of performance. In the first year they moved into the top 10 and were recognized as the most improved. Last year they were number six.

Coley started his climb when he was given his first major leadership position when he was 28, while at SouthTrust. They asked him to run the small business banking team for South Florida. “We targeted those businesses with revenue less than $10 million. When they asked me I was scared, I was coming into a team where some of the bankers were twice my age.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 2.54.41 PMIt may have been the challenge that Coley liked, “Everything I know about leadership, I basically learned in the locker room. In football you get very tangible feedback on whether or not what you are doing works, and I’m still a coach. In the first meeting I had in the new role, I was ready. I told them we were going to win, we were going to dominate the market. I said, ‘I’ve watched you from afar and now we’re a team!’ Well, the best is exactly what we did.”     

Changing Times

Explaining the “how” of his team’s success he said, “Banks basically offer the same products; the key is how you package those products; for your clients. At the end of the day, banking is about people and good bankers are simply people who can connect with people. I find they like us first, then they discover they like the way we do business.”

Coley recognizes the banking industry has changed, but the world has changed as well. “Banking is regulated and the regulators are trying to protect the consumers and the economy. The banks that succeed are the ones that take care of their clients. Is it different? Yes, but bemoaning that doesn’t help us or our customers.”

“Good bankers are business advisors,” he explained. “Just like your CPA or your lawyer. Often businesses bring the banker in last of all, after they have decided what to do. But bankers have a lot of experience and acumen that business leaders and owners can draw from in developing their strategy. We’re not risk adverse, we just want to fully understand the risk.” 

It is clear Coley is most proud of his banks and his own participation in the community, which dates back to his college football career where he earned a place on the NCAA Good Works Team.

“When BB&T donated $1 million to homelessness, corporate wouldn’t let us publicize it. I thought that was a public relations triumph, but they just felt they should do it because it was the right thing to do. That is why I love working for this bank.”


This article appears in the November 2015 issue of i4 Business.
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