Yes, Kessel Stelling has been to the new SunTrust Park to watch the Atlanta Braves baseball team play. He took in the season home opener against San Diego last Friday. He loves the new stadium and thinks it is a great place for families.
But don’t expect the man who took the reins of Synovus Financial Corp. in 2010, becoming its chief executive officer and guiding the regional bank back from recessionary days to sustained profitability, to give an inch to its competitor with the naming rights for the sparkling new venue.
“I call it Braves stadium,” Stelling half-joked Thursday just after the company’s annual meeting of shareholders inside Blanchard Hall at Columbus Bank and Trust.
He further explained the shrewd strategic tactic that Synovus took as it prepares to consolidate much of its Atlanta-area management and administrative operations into one new building near the intersection of Interstates 75 and 285, which also just happens to be near SunTrust Park. Employees should be relocating there in August and September.
“We actually lit the sign on our new building the night before the new stadium opened,” he said. “So as people worked their way through traffic to and from the game, I hope they saw the red glow of the Synovus letters and really enjoyed the experience. I joke about the name of the park, but I really do congratulate our competitors for the naming opportunity. I just choose not to give them free advertising time.”
The humorous anecdote was among several topics that Stelling, who added chairman of the board to his job title in 2012, touched on following the annual meeting that itself was fairly brief and to the point. Among a handful of items, shareholders elected a dozen board directors and approved compensation of its top executives.
Calling 2016 a “strong” year for the bank that operates in five Southeastern states, Stelling went over the basic numbers that added up to a $236.5 million profit from overall revenues of $1.14 billion for the 12 months.
The CEO also noted that 2017 has gotten off to a solid start with a $69.3 million first-quarter profit, an earnings report punctuated with Monday’s news that Synovus will play a role in the mega-acquisition of outdoors retailer Cabela’s by its own competitor, Bass Pro Shops. The bank headquartered in Columbus will purchase certain assets from a bank owned by Cabela’s, sell the credit-card portfolio to Capital One, then keep $1.2 billion in brokered time deposits, plus get $75 million for helping with the transaction.
Its participation in the deal immediately raises the visibility and profile of Synovus nationally, Stelling conceded in the discussion after the shareholder meeting, while also bringing an infusion of money that the company possibly can use to reach long-term financial goals.
“We had been in discussions for quite some time. I won’t go into the exact details because it involves four parties and everybody has their own regulatory filings,” he said. “But we think it speaks well to our standing in the industry, our reputation in the financial services industry, our reputation with regulators and, quite frankly, our deep knowledge of the card services industry. So we were pleased to enter into the transaction. It sounds incredibly complex, but it’s really not. It’s an opportunistic transaction for us.”
The bankholding firm that traces its charter to 1888 and eventually was born out of Columbus Bank and Trust is now looking to promote the Synovus name even more. That will come with consolidation of operations and, ultimately, the elimination of community-focused names such as Columbus Bank and Trust. By next year, all 28 of the bank’s division will use the “Synovus” name alone.
“It’s been mostly positive,” Stelling said when asked about the feedback he has received on the name changes across five states. “I’m sentimental as well. You look at the charter of this bank (CB&T) on the wall and you know the deep history here. But you know that deep history exists at our Sea Island Bank in Statesboro, over 100 years old with that name, and really throughout our footprint, in Jasper, Ala., in Rome, Ga. Many of those banks have hundred-year histories and they’re just as attached to their name. At the end of the day, our bankers are excited about coming together under one name, one company, one approach to serving customers. Ultimately, it’s the customer that will win.”
Asked as well if he has any worries as a banker, even as his company is putting its Great Recession troubles far behind it now, the CEO said regulatory hurdles remain, and he hopes no more are added to the mix. He believes the foundation of Synovus will serve the company well no matter what, with its strong reputation and the solid “talent” that it puts “on the field” each day to make decisions and serve customers in a world transitioning to mobile and digital banking.
“I’m very aware of the challenges coming out of D.C. — political, financial and others — and yeah I worry about them,” he said. “But day to day, I can’t control that. I can control what our team does, or I hope I can control or encourage what our team does, and make a difference in the lives of our customers every day.”
With the progress the company has made in recent years and the potential ahead of it, Stelling, who turned 60 last summer, said he’s in no hurry to leave Synovus. That could mean another five years or more at the helm of the bank that oversees about $30 billion in assets.
“I love what I do,” Stelling said. “I love this company. I really do love the team that hung together during the (recession) crisis. So as long as our board will have me, yeah, I plan to be here ... As long as I’m healthy and as long as I feel like I’m making a difference, then I want to continue to work.
“At the point that I’m not making a difference, then maybe the board will gently tell me it’s time to do something else. But I’m having a good time. Our team is energized. And I plan to be here.”