Kessel D. Stelling Jr., chief executive officer and chairman of the board for Synovus Financial Corporation, was the guest speaker at the LaGrange Rotary’s weekly meeting on Feb. 6th. Stelling was invited to speak to the group by Rotarian Robert L. Carmichael. Among other subsidiaries, Synovus is the parent company of Commercial Bank and Trust (CB&T).
Stelling, who has an impressive 39 years in the banking industry, started his presentation by thanking the company’s share holders, investors and customers and then gave a brief history of the corporation and spoke on the importance of quality leadership.
Stelling said that he and his wife now live in the renovated mill where the company first had its start.
“Our beginnings started back in the 1880’s when one of the mill workers caught her dress in one of the machines and when it had torn, money came out of its hem,” Stelling said. “She had said that that was the safest place she had to keep her money.”
The employer then offered to keep her money in the mill’s safe. He then extended the kindness to other employees and even paid interest to them. Stelling joked that some people say that those employees were paid higher interest then what people are paid today.
Stelling stated that today, Synovus is a 27 billion corporation, in five states and in 160 communities in the Southeast.
“We are the local bank, and we try to act that way,” Stelling said.
Stelling discussed the importance of community to his corporation, specifically citing LaGrange.
“This community really means a lot to us. This bank was the second bank that was purchased back in 1977,” Stelling said. “The true measure of our success is what our company can do for communities, like LaGrange.”
“Banking is about helping other people succeed,” Stelling said. “Strong banks make strong communities and strong leadership makes strong banks.”
Stelling said that Synovus, like everyone else had to make some tough decisions back in 2008-2009. After the company had to lay off a number of individuals they were accused of deviating from their culture by not keeping the interests of their employees in mind.
Stelling said, “This recession caused really bad things to happen to some really good people.”
“When we talk about cutting a position, we know that every position has a name associated with it and a family,” Stelling said. “The decisions were absolutely consistent with our culture of heart because everything we did , we did with great thought, with transparency, with fairness and with as much generosity as we could to the employees…We looked at it as as not cutting 1,000 jobs but saving 5,000 jobs and a company that some day might be in the position to rehire some of those same employees.”
Stelling did say that bankers had to share some of the blame the recession along with the government and customers who took on more debt than they could handle.
“Companies that want to be effective are the companies that will be around,” Stelling said. “Company leaders must be determined and strong, and face challenges without shying away from the really tough situations.”
“If the ability to lead is given to you by your title, then you probably are not a very good leader,” Stelling said. “That title might make it possible for you to lead for a couple of months but after that it won’t get you very far.”
Stelling stated that Synovus has made great progress since then and gives credit to the leadership in the company both at the local and corporate levels.
He commended the leaders of LaGrange and said that LaGrange is a community that is envied by many. He ended his presentation by thanking everyone and taking a few questions from Rotary members.