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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 11, 2014 4 years ago

No Wolves

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A $116.6 billion-asset bank seeks an expanded Gulf Coast presence. But it turned inward and reenergized employees before it targeted new customers.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

The first task Marty Lanahan faced when she took over Gulf Coast operations for Regions Bank had little do with anything related to the institution's financial picture.

Instead, Lanahan, named west Florida area president for Birmingham, Ala.-based Regions in late 2012, tackled morale among the 800 employees in her territory that spreads from Lakeland through Tampa to Naples. There was also major personnel turnover in her first six months, both within the executive team and in the 120 branches she oversees. “We want entrepreneurs and people who want to make a difference,” says Lanahan. “If you are a lone wolf out there you won't work in our culture.”

Lanahan's Regions' reboot ranges from leadership coaches for employees to reinstituting sales rallies and parties. “The energy is so different, and it's not just because Marty is high-energy,” says Regions Sarasota City President Kimberly Hopper. “It's really each geography and each business group has been empowered to have that entrepreneurial sprit reenergized. It's fun.”

A Greenville, S.C., native, Lanahan began her banking career in 1987 in Jacksonville at Atlantic Bank/First Union. She joined Regions in 2000, where she eventually headed up operations from Jacksonville to the Panhandle — a territory that includes multiple demographics, and, Lanahan points out, two time zones.

Lanahan was a go-to civic and business community leader in Jacksonville. She chaired the Jacksonville Electric Authority, for instance, and she also headed the volunteer committee for Super Bowl XXXIX, played in Jacksonville in February 2005.

Lanahan, 49, recently sat down with the Business Observer to talk about Regions, the banking industry and her career. The following are edited excerpts from the conversation:

You were one of the more prominent and visible business leaders in Jacksonville for more than two decades. Why did you leave for the Gulf Coast?

I had been in Jacksonville for 28 years. I'm a single mom and I decided I would stay in Jacksonville until my kids were in college because my ex-husband is in Jacksonville. It was the right decision. I was able to grow my career because Regions allowed me to run the Panhandle from Jacksonville as an area president. But now that the kids are in college, I was looking for what I would do next. I was a little bored. I jumped into this opportunity driven by the fact that it was a tiny bit broken from a morale perspective. I love a good challenge and this was something where I thought I could help the team and the bank.

What steps have you taken to improve morale in a territory with such a large geographic reach?

We were not delivering world-class service in our branches when I got here. And that was something we were famous for in North Florida. We had a lot of turnover. There were people who had been here for a while and they hadn't changed with the times and they hadn't changed with the culture. I think we turned 40% of the branch staff throughout west Florida over. We hired highly energized, highly engaged people. It took about six to eight months for us, rated by Gallup, to deliver world-class service here. Now we have delivered world-class service for the past eight months in our branches throughout west Florida. And that to me is a sign of how engaged our associates are because if they are engaged and happy and energized then the customers are going to feel that.

I also turned over my management team. I was running St. Petersburg, Tampa, the commercial bank, the consumer bank and my area president job without an assistant for six months. We really looked at the team and assessed what we needed, and we didn't have the right people. So I said I would rather work really hard and find the right fit than continue with the wrong people and the wrong fit.

How did you find so many right people for Regions so quickly?

Attitude is everything. They don't have to have all the skills because we will teach them what they need to be successful. But when you meet a Regions associate you typically see a smile and you see someone who is super-engaged. We want to hire people who people want to do business with. We want to hire people who look at things like what can I do as opposed to this is the reason I can't do something.

What company, in any industry, do you want Regions employees to emulate?

It's easy to say the Ritz-Carlton, it's easy to say some of the brands that everybody says. I've never looked at it that way because I'm a pretty tough consumer. So I tend to actually use a negative example for someone who is so positive. I ask people to remember the time they had the worst service and what did that look like? To me the visual is remember when you were standing at that counter trying to buy that item and it took 30 minutes to do it? How did you feel? And how do we use that as an example to not have that behavior?

How has Dodd-Frank and other financial industry reforms impacted the banking industry and Regions' strategy on the Gulf Coast?

Our industry has gone through what I would refer to as a structural change, not a situational change. And I think the first thing you have to do as a banker is realize that. I think there are a lot of bankers who are waiting for the good old days to come back. But the good old days are not coming back. Once you realize that and you realize the regulators are part of your life, you won't have an adversarial relationship with regulators.

Our approach is OK, Dodd-Frank ate a lot of our revenue. So what do you do when that happens? The mistake would be to look for the entire bank to fill that revenue gap. What we are really trying to do is run our consumer bank more efficiently. We're not looking for cost containment to cover the revenue issue. We're looking for our service to attract more households to help us grow. You can't cut your way out of a revenue problem.

What is the banking climate like now for Regions on the Gulf Coast?

Even the Fed has said when unemployment reached a certain level that things are going to happen. Unemployment has reached all-time lows for the past five years. We're back in a range that's more acceptable. So the things that happen because unemployment is back in range include housing values start increasing and businesses come out of their shell and start expanding. I think there's pent up need in the market for small businesses to expand and expansion is going to start driving the economy. We haven't seen that yet in Florida, but we are starting to see it.

AT A GLANCE
Regions Bank on the Gulf Coast

Area president: Marty Lanahan

Coverage area: Nine counties, from Polk to Collier

Branches: 120

Employees: 800

Deposits: $6.77 billion

Market share: 6.13%, the sixth-largest bank in the region.

Source: Regions Bank, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp

Executive Summary
Company. Regions Bank

Inustry. Banking

Key. Marty Lanahan has led a transformation of the bank on the Gulf Coast.

AT A GLANCE
Regions Bank

CEO: Grayson Hall

Headquarters: Birmingham, Ala.

History: Founded in 1971 under the name First Alabama Bancshares. Entered Florida in 1986 and changed its name to Regions in 1992.

Assets: $116.6 billion (through Dec. 31, 2013.)

Coverage: 16 states across the South, Midwest and Texas.

Branches: 1,700 offices and 2,000 ATMs.

Divisions: Consumer banking, commercial banking, wealth management, mortgage and insurance products and services.

Loans: Ranked fifth nationwide for small business lending through the SBA.

Stock: Trades in the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol RF. Member of the S&P 500 Index. Recent price was $11.09

Sources: Regions Bank, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Google Finance

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