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UPDATE: Retired Synovus executive Blanchard leaving bank’s board of directors in April

Marking the end of an era, Synovus Financial Corp. said today that longtime executive Jim Blanchard will depart the company’s board effective April 26, the date for the regional bank’s annual meeting.

Blanchard, 69, served as chairman and chief executive officer of Synovus more than 35 years before retiring as CEO in 2005. A year later, he stepped down as chairman, but has remained on the board since as an active consultant.

Along with Blanchard, former Synovus Chairman and CEO Richard Anthony, who is 64, will not be up for re-election by the company’s shareholders at the annual meeting, the company said. Neither will Richard “Bo” Bradley, who has been on the board since 1991. He is 72 years old.

“Jimmy, Richard, and Bo have a combined 83 years of service to this company, and the extent of their contributions over the years cannot be measured,” Kessel Stelling, current Synovus chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

The board will take on some new faces, however. Steve Butler, 61, chairman of the board of W.C. Bradley Co., has been nominated by the board to serve the banking firm, as has Jerry Nix, 66, vice chairman and chief financial officer of Genuine Parts Co.

“Our board will greatly benefit from the extensive financial experience and successful business accomplishments of Jerry and Steve,” Stelling said.

Synovus, headquartered in Columbus, is parent company of Columbus Bank and Trust Co. The regional bank oversees $27 billion in assets through its 30 bank divisions in Georgia, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Like most U.S. banks, the company has weathered a blistering downturn sparked by a national housing market crisis that left it holding a mountain of bad residential development loans from Atlanta to the Florida coast. The Great Recession exacerbated the company’s financial condition, with it posting three years of quarterly losses before a surprise profit last fall.

Blanchard left the company’s executive management team before the wheels fell off much of the banking industry, turning the company over to Anthony, who become CEO in 2005 and chairman in 2006. Anthony retired as CEO two years ago and as chairman earlier this year after a potentially life-threatening illness.

Stelling expressed gratitude to Blanchard, Anthony and Bradley for nurturing the company “through both good and challenging times.”

One of the highlights of the better times was Synovus topping Fortune magazine’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For in America in 1999. The company was chosen for its “Culture of the Heart” atmosphere that included employee-friendly perks, incentives and benefits. The company also steadily paid healthy dividends to shareholders, partly based on the contributions of its credit-card processing subsidiary, Total Systems Services, which it spun off onto its own at the end of 2007.

“I think it’s a confirmation of our intent to be a good place to work,” Jimmy Yancey, former Synovus president, said at the time of the Fortune honor. “We didn’t set out to be the best place to work, but a place where people don’t mind getting up in the morning and going to work.”

The tougher moments have included the string of financial losses that led to two major restructurings by the bank — one under Anthony, the other by Stelling — resulting in closed branches and the elimination of 2,000 jobs companywide since 2008. The dividend has dried up to a penny per quarter and the bank’s stock has languished under $3 per share.

“From Jimmy fostering a culture that led to Synovus’ recognition as one of the best workplaces in America, to Richard’s leadership during some of the most difficult times in our history, to Bo’s expert guidance of many critical decisions for our board, each of these individuals has helped shape who we are today and helped position our company for long-term growth and success,” Stelling said today. “Their leadership influence will be deeply missed.”

Butler and Nix bring varying backgrounds, but with similarities, to the Synovus board table. Both are with retail-oriented companies, although W.C. Bradley is privately owned, while Genuine Parts Co. is publicly traded, its shares valued today at around $63 apiece.

Aside from chairman, Butler also has worked a stint as CEO of W.C. Bradley, probably best known for its Char-Broil outdoor grill products. It also has a variety of outdoor goods divisions, along with a real-estate business in Columbus. His board affiliations include CB&T, St. Francis Hospital and The Bradley-Turner Foundation.

Like Butler, Nix has worked with Genuine Parts for many years, having started there in 1978. The Atlanta-based company distributes a variety of product lines, including automotive replacement parts, industrial parts, office products and electrical/electronic materials. His board connections include Boy Scouts of America, Young Harris College, Cobb County Chamber of Commerce and Cobb Energy Performing Arts Authority. The former U.S. Air Force pilot also once worked as an auditor with Ernst & Young.

“Their backgrounds will be invaluable to our company as we make strategic decisions that position us for sustained profitability and continued growth in the future,” Stelling said.

The Synovus annual meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. April 26 at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center, 801 Front Ave.

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