John G. Medlin Jr., a widely respected banking executive who headed Wachovia Corp. as it grew from a regional banking firm to one of the largest in the United States, with a significant presence in metro Atlanta, died Thursday in Grandfather Mountain, N.C. He was 78.
"This is a sad day for North Carolina, as well as Winston-Salem, Wachovia and me,” Stan Kelly, Carolinas regional president at Wells Fargo, which merged Wachovia in 2008, said in a statement to the Charlotte News-Observer.
“Not only was John a legendary banker and an icon in the business community, but he represented the heart and soul of our company for many of us who grew up with Wachovia," Mr. Kelly said.
While leading Wachovia beginning in the 1970s, Mr. Medlin saw the firm grow from a regional player to the 20th-largest bank in the country, the News-Observer reported.
Mr. Medlin died of a heart attack while playing tennis. A funeral service will be held Monday in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Mr. Medlin was born in Elevation, N.C., grew up in Benson, N.C., and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1956. He served as an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1956 to 1959, when he joined Wachovia Bank and Trust Co.
He rose through the management ranks and was elected president and chief operating officer of Wachovia Bank and Trust in 1974. He was elected to the same offices of Wachovia Corp. and the bank effective Jan. 1, 1977.
The News-Observer reported that as regulations were relaxed in the 1980s to allow banks to expand beyond state lines, Mr. Medlin shepherded Wachovia’s expansion into Georgia and South Carolina. Yet he was regarded a conservative banker.
“He had such an incredible mind for banking. He understood demographics. He understood economics. He understood banking fundamentals,” Jim Cherry, current CEO of Charlotte-based Park Sterling Corp., told the News-Observer.
Mr. Cherry, who worked for Mr. Medlin at Wachovia for much of his career, said the man “literally pioneered relationship banking and risk management in the industry.”
Mr. Medlin stepped down as CEO in 1993, when Wachovia had about $35 billion in assets. He remained on the bank’s board until 1998.
Wachovia, which had moved its headquarters from Winston-Salem to Charlotte, grew beyond its North Carolina base to become in the 21st Century the second-largest bank in the Atlanta metro area after SunTrust in total share of deposits. A victim of the financial industry meltdown of 2008, Wachovia was merged that year into San Francisco-based Wells Fargo.
Mr. Medlin was recipient of the American Banker Award as the most admired CEO in banking for 1991 and 1992 and its lifetime achievement award in 2002. Mr. Medlin also was selected by Financial World in 1990 as the Chief Executive of the Decade of the Eighties for Southern Banks and the best chief executive in the nation in 1993.
He served on the boards of directors of such corporations as Bell South, Burlington Industries, RJR Nabisco Holdings, Norfolk Southern, Piedmont Airlines, Hanes, Carolina Power & Light Company, Media General, National Service Industries, Summit Communications and US Airways Group.
Mr. Medlin also served twice as board chairman of Wake Forest University and on the boards of the Research Triangle Foundation, Duke Endowment, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Davidson College, Salem Academy and College, Kenan Institute for Ethics, National Humanities Center, National Urban League and other nonprofits.
Mr. Medlin is survived by his wife of 54 years, Pauline Sims Medlin; daughters Elizabeth Medlin Hale of Atlanta and Ridgely Medlin Phillips of Charlotte; sister Patsy Blackman and brothers Jerry and Tracy Medlin, and five grandchildren.
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