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Be Fast, Be Nimble to Be Successful, Tennessee Banker Says

April 13, 2011

Category: Business & Economics, Events


JordanBryan Jordan '84, president and chief executive officer of First Horizon National Corporation in Memphis, Tenn., said he thought a lot about the remarks he would make as the seventh keynote speaker in the Ralph W. Ketner School of Business' Distinguished CEO Lecture Series at Catawba College on April 12. He toyed with idea of speaking about the economic recovery or change in the banking system, but, in the end, he said those topics "felt worn out to me."

Jordan chose instead to speak about the importance of being fast and being nimble in today's business world. He said he became CEO of First Horizon National Corporation on August 31, 2008, "seven days before the real teeth of the financial crisis sank in."  Since that time, he has been busy as CEO doing four key things for his organization:  1) defining the meaningful outside; 2) defining what businesses we are in; 3) balancing the need for current yield and profitability with the need to save for the future; 4) and defining the culture of the company.

"Where you think the world is today is going to be somewhere different tomorrow and you can't tailor your activities today with the idea that they'll be effective tomorrow," he explained. He cited three familiar companies that have changed drastically, two that kept step with the changing times include Kodak and Intel, one that lost step, Blockbuster Video, now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Part of the difficulty of his position, Jordan noted, was "getting everybody focused on the same issue at the same time," especially since there are some key generational differences in the workplace that "influence how we see the world."  He provided broad generational descriptors: veterans – those born prior to 1946; baby boomers -  including himself, born to the veterans; Generation X; and Generation Y, otherwise known as the Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000.

Millennials, he said, use more technology gadgets, and 95% of them have a cell phone. "It's not cool for them to bank in a branch," Jordan added, "and in our business, we're thinking of how to move us forward with all of this technology."

In the workplace, he continued, "we've migrated to participation awards and away from overall winners. It's the most generational difference we've ever had."  He said employees work in teams and have shifted away from a vertical hierarchy of employer over employees.

Jordan spoke of risk-taking in the workplace and said he was an advocate of taking "thoughtful, calculated, educated risks in a way that allows an organization to move forward."

He paraphrased a quote from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky who said, "I don't skate to where the puck is, I skate to where it's going to be," to describe how a business needs to act and react in today's economic environment.

"Our organization in 2006 was focused on growth," Jordan said. "That growth as we know now was due to risks. Now at the bank, our focus is on profitability first and on growth as a result of that."

Jordan touched on the importance of communications in the workplace and said First Horizon National Corporation, which was founded when Abe Lincoln was president, 147 years ago, has "a culture of candor."  "We wanted to have an environment where people would stop us and raise an issue in such a way that we could step back and think about it and adjust course."

While noting that one of the innate human behaviors is to resist change, Jordan said, "technology and change are the way of the world. The cycles are going to get faster and we're going to have to adapt. Focus your energy on the change, on where the puck's going to be."

Jordan took questions from the audience at the conclusion of his remarks. He was asked what he thought about the passage of TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program). He responded, "I firmly believe that if TARP had not been passed we could have been looking at a world without electricity. The financial system was collapsing and TARP was instrumental in breaking the momentum – like calling a time out. It gave the economy an opportunity to get its feet back under it."

Jordan was asked what lessons he had learned from his father, retired banker David Jordan of Salisbury. He recalled his father asking him if he knew the difference between hedgers and speculators. "He told me the difference was that hedgers sleep at night and speculators don't," he said, "and he taught me to always do the right thing."

One member of the audience asked about credit default swaps and if the country is in trouble for these. "We got overly complex with these," Jordan answered. "I think that is largely behind us now. We broke the paradigm and the paradigm was that housing prices never go down nationally. Now we have the realized and unrealized loss and there are a lot of losses left to be recognized. I think that will result in limited access to capital and a slow growth market."

A student in the audience asked Jordan if there were books or authors he would recommend to current students. He noted Malcolm Gladwell, author of "Tipping Point," "Blink," and "Outliers."  He also recommended "Moneyball," a book about baseball and the Oakland A's, and "Blind Side," the story of football player Michael Oher.

Jordan's remarks at Catawba mark the seventh such event in the Distinguished CEO Lecture Series. Prior speakers have included Louis DeJoy, chief executive officer of New Breed Logistics, Inc.; Jeffrey Kane, former senior vice president in charge of the Charlotte office of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond; Bob Ingram, vice chairman pharmaceuticals, GlaxoSmithKline; Ellen Ruff, then president of Duke Energy – Carolinas; Robert Wagner, Lowe's senior vice president of specialty sales and store operations support, and Kelly King, chairman and chief executive officer of BB&T Corporation.

First Horizon National Corp. (NYSE: FHN) employs 5,400 people and provides financial services through more than 180 bank locations in and around Tennessee and 18 FTN Financial Group offices in the U.S. and abroad. More information can be found at www.fhnc.com.


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