Synovus CEO Kessel Stelling looks to future during annual shareholders meeting

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comApril 25, 2013 

Synovus Chairman and Executive Officer of Synovus Kessel Stelling was clearly looking to the future Thursday morning as the company held its annual shareholders meeting.

“The last four years have certainly been tough,” Stelling told more than 200 people gathered in the Columbus Convention & Trade Center. Battered and bruised by the recession, bad loans and a national banking crisis, 2012 was a transformational year for the Columbus-based bank holding company.

Synovus had its first full year of profitability since 2007. After recording a loss of nearly $61 million in 2011, the company — with the benefit of a deferred tax asset accumulated during years of financial losses — recorded a $712.8 million profit last year.

Synovus has gone through significant cost-cutting measures, including layoffs, to climb back into the black.

“The fact that this company is focused on efficiency is not a sign of a weak company,” Stelling said. “It is the sign of a strong company that plans to be here awhile.”

Stelling used a comparison to 2009 — rock bottom for Synovus — to make his point about the direction the company was headed. He noted earlier this year two major ratings agencies — Fitch and Standard & Poor’s — upgraded their outlooks on the bank.

“We’ve told them we are not the same company you downgraded in 2009,” Stelling said.

In 2009, Synovus lost $1.6 billion. Without the benefit of the deferred tax asset, Synvous turned a $31 million profit a year ago.

While Stelling told shareholders it was not the same firm it was four years ago, some things have not changed.

“In many ways we are the same,” he said, pointing to local leadership at the company’s banks Southeastern banks, customer service and long-term relationships with customers.

The CEO touched on Synovus’ commitment to repay the nearly $1 billion federal bailout it took in 2007.

Synovus said earlier this week the bank is positioned to repay the $968 million it owes to the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) during the third quarter of this year.

“We have made every payment as planned and have paid $201 million in dividends to the U.S. government,” Stelling said. “We have never asked for a nickel — or a dollar for that matter — discount. And we will pay it in full when it is appropriate.”

During Thursday’s meeting, an Augusta, Ga., real estate executive was elected to the board of directors. Barry L. Storey, founding partner of Hull Storey Gibson Companies, was the only new board member selected as 14 board members were elected.

Two long-time board members rotated off after reaching the mandatory retirement age. Lynn Page, who has served on the Synovus Board of Directors since 1978, spent more than 25 years in various executive positions at Synovus. Frank Brumley, who has served as a member of the Synovus Board of Directors since 2004, also did not stand for election.

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