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December 2009
Banking Made Simple
By Ellison Clary

     He entered banking fairly casually but, as he leads the Charlotte Market banking operations of Regions Financial Corporation, Ed Hawes is all business—albeit with a personable flair.

     Actually, Hawes holds two titles with the Birmingham-based institution’s major subsidiary, Regions Bank. He is Charlotte Market President and Commercial and Industrial Executive in North Carolina and Virginia.

     From 30,000 square feet on three floors in SouthPark, Hawes presides over about 70 people in Charlotte and is close to another 30 here who work for Regions’ full-service brokerage and investment banking arm called Morgan Keegan.

     With a formula based on solid service from veteran bankers with strong expertise in the Charlotte market, Hawes says his bank’s area operation has enjoyed growth of 25 percent in commercial business in 2008 and is looking at another substantial jump for 2009.

     “The Regions Bank name might be new to people in this marketplace, but my bankers are not new,” says Hawes as he sums up his strategy. “People know them. When we sit down with a prospect, we probably have as much or more experience as any bank in town.”

     That’s by design for Hawes, a Charlotte native who has worked in area banking nearly his entire career, even though he decided on that professional path pretty much on the fly.

     “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Hawes remembers when he was earning a business degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But I liked finance. Then in graduate school, I took a banking class and I liked that. I thought I would go into banking for a couple of years until I decided what I really wanted to do. And that was about 30 years ago.”

     After earning his Master of Business Administration at the University of Georgia and a short stint in the U.S. Army, Hawes soon determined he’d stay with banking. That’s what he’s done since 1978.

 

People-Oriented

     “I really enjoy the variety that you capture in banking,” Hawes declares. “I particularly enjoy working with entrepreneurs—people who are figuring out how to make a business succeed.”

     Hawes started with a Georgia predecessor of Wachovia, but after three years he hooked on with Bank of America-ancestor NCNB in Charlotte.

     “I interviewed with several companies in Charlotte,” he remembers. “I was impressed by the professionalism and the can-do spirit at NCNB. They were looking to grow and that was attractive.”

     He’d mainly been in the Atlanta bank’s training program, first mastering it and then helping run it. He liked the chance to get into sales.

     “They wanted someone to cover national accounts in Georgia, so that was my initial job at NCNB,” he says. In the bank’s Southeast Division, he worked with big corporations and smaller companies alike.

     In 1986, shortly after he got married to Mary Catherine Akers, whom he knew from his youth at Myers Park High School, NCNB sent the newlyweds to Miami in its correspondent banking group.

     “We really enjoyed Miami,” he remembers. “But with extended family here, we thought it would be nice to raise a family in Charlotte. So we moved back here after two years.”

     That’s when Hawes started in commercial banking for NCNB and stayed with successors NationsBank and Bank of America until 2006. As a team leader directing from five to 11 people, Hawes worked with companies in and around Charlotte until 2000. Then, in a reorganization, he moved into credit products, interacting with larger firms and also government entities such as the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

     So when he decided to make the move to Regions, Hawes had a Rolodex that bulged with contacts.

     “One of the most interesting things about working in the commercial marketplace is learning how to get along with a variety of personalities, because people are so different,” he smiles. “I focus on how to effectively communicate and build rapport and trust, so that people know you are on their side.

     “And it’s rewarding to be able to work out solutions to meet their needs and to have them trust you enough to share confidential information, even things they might not share with other financial advisors,” he adds.

 

Extending Credit

     Hawes is quick to acknowledge the positive influence of strong mentors. Jim Leavelle, a now-retired former city executive for Bank of America, was a long-time boss.

     “He was a great manager and a very supportive individual,” Hawes says of Leavelle. “He had good insights, good interpersonal skills and strong business acumen.

     “Along with him there was Carlos Evans,” Hawes continues. The former Bank of America commercial executive for North and South Carolina. “Carlos was very fair, straightforward and above board, and he was goal-oriented.”

     Hawes also benefited greatly from his relationship with Morrison Creech, the Bank of America credit products manager, who supported Evans and shared similar characteristics.

     Hawes wasn’t looking for a change when Regions executives approached him. But he’d gone to the same high school as Kevin Kennelly, the founder of Park Meridian Bank, the institution that Regions purchased in 2001 to get into the Charlotte market. And he was aware that the Regions Charlotte leader, Brian Kennedy, had left to organize Park Sterling Bank.

     He weighed the offer and signed on in mid-2006. He likes the potential for dramatic growth.

     “We are starting with a much lower base in market penetration,” he explains, “so there’s a lot more opportunity in marketing and calling on clients. It’s pretty wide open in terms of prospects we can call on, which has been interesting.”

     To help with that growth through one-on-one conversations, Hawes has assembled a team of bankers whose local experience often rivals his own.

     “We have hired about 10 new managers and relationship managers, most of which were with Bank of America and Wachovia,” he says with justified satisfaction. “Most of them have 15 to 30 years of banking experience.” Regions executives Mike McNamee and Bill Dawkins have provided great support in hiring quality bankers.

     He clicks off a few names. In the Regions commercial area there is Jon Swift, manager of the North Carolina commercial group, who came from Wachovia; Steve Phillippi, Dick Robberts and David Richardson who worked with Hawes at Bank of America; and Tony Letrent, who also has been at Bank of America and RBC Centura. Richard Pappas, the area executive in Cornelius, has been with several banks, including Wachovia.  Ann Hogshead, a 30-year banker from Wachovia, runs the private banking group and veterans Greg Reynolds and Perry Hedrick manage the real estate and home builder finance groups.

     Regions is strong in commercial banking and real estate lending, but it also enjoys success in consumer, mortgage, treasury management, community and private banking, Hawes says. Transportation, restaurant/beverage and syndications are areas that are bulking up and another is health care, with help from an entity called Shattuck Hammond within Morgan Keegan.

 

Expertise as a Value Proposition

     “The idea is to add expertise where we can have a value proposition when we go talk to prospects,” Hawes says. He feels many people in these parts appreciate the bank’s strengths and its commitment to service from banking veterans.

     Backing up his assessment is Rodney Pitts, owner of Southern Elevator Group, Inc. Based in Charlotte, Pitts calls his firm the leading regional elevator company in the Carolinas and Virginia. He has been a Regions customer for three years.

     “We switched to Regions because of the experienced commercial banking team led by Ed Hawes,” says Pitts. “They are first-rate people. All down the line, service has been very good.”

     Hawes praises his group’s team approach with its strong Charlotte savvy mixed with a comfortable, casual identity. Hawes himself often works in shirt sleeves with an open collar, but keeps his suit jacket and a selection of ties hanging on the back of his office door.

     “We try to foster a relaxed atmosphere, one that’s fairly casual but focused on quick turnaround and quick response,” he says. “We focus on execution.”

     Hawes says Regions locally has a strong pipeline of business even though the area economy remains troublesome. He believes the business atmosphere in 2010 will continue to pose serious challenges.

     Building Regions’ name recognition with only four branches is what Hawes calls his biggest personal challenge.

     True to the assessment of many that he is a people-person, Hawes says the most enjoyable part of his job is two-pronged—helping people achieve financial objectives and personally interacting with people in the office as well as clients.

 

Community Recognition

     Hawe’s pride in his Charlotte heritage is evident in his involvement in civic activities. These include the United Way of Central Carolinas, the Arts & Science Council, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the Salvation Army.

     A project dear to his heart is the Myers Park High School Alumni Association. That’s special for more reasons than that the school is his alma mater.

     “The purpose is to try to provide support for the school and primarily for disadvantaged students,” he says. “And we are trying to foster communication among the alumni.”

     Retired real estate executive Everett Wohlbruck was encountering bumps in the road trying to establish a functioning Myers Park alumni association until he recruited his neighbor Hawes.

     “Ed Hawes came in and it took off,” Wohlbruck says. He points to 1,500 names on the association’s Internet page and about 200 members.

     “Ed is a leader,” Wohlbruck says. “He’s a catalyst. He does things in a quiet way but he gets things done and he does it gracefully. He’s a treasure.”

     Hawes and his wife, a graphic designer, have two children who are products of the public schools. Son Alex is working on a master’s in Accountancy in Appalachian State University and daughter Mindy is a junior at Myers Park.

     “I’m very focused on the public schools,” Hawes says. “I’ve received a lot and feel like I want to give back to public education.”

     He encourages his employees to get involved in civic organizations, and they do, pitching in for the Crop Walk and the Multiple Sclerosis Society, among other causes. While that kind of effort helps the community, it also builds awareness for Regions.

     “Name recognition, or the lack thereof, is probably what we are most focused on,” Hawes says, “and a lot of that simply has to do with increasing visibility in the marketplace given our limited number of branches.”

     He plans to continue to build the commercial and corporate areas and add staff.

     “As time moves forward and the economy improves, we would look to add branches,” he says. “Then we’d be looking at potentially making acquisitions,” he adds, pointing out there are several regional submarkets he’d like to enter.

     At 56, Hawes is enjoying his position at the helm of Regions’ banking operations here in Charlotte. He says with enthusiasm, “Each day is another opportunity to extend our footprint in the community and to help facilitate transactions that leverage our experience.”

Ellison Clary is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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