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"Own Your Own Life," Says BB&T CEO Kelly King

October 28, 2010

Category: Business & Economics, Events


KingBB&T CEO Kelly King contends that leadership will help the United States recover from "the economic calamity we've been through."

"Leaders create behaviors and behaviors create results," King explains, adding, "the ultimate role of a leader is to change beliefs."

King spoke on the Catawba College campus on Wednesday, October 27, at the sixth installment of the Ralph W. Ketner School of Business' CEO Lecture series. Aiming his remarks, titled "Our Best Days Are Ahead," at attending students from Catawba, Livingstone and Rowan-Cabarrus Community Colleges, King first offered a perspective on how the nation's recent financial crisis came to be. He then shared some principles for living, principles that guide both his bank's business philosophy and his personal life.

"When I started out in the business [38 years ago], 80 percent of all the loans in the country were made by banks," he says. "Since that time, 50 percent of those loans moved into a shadow banking or securitization system. Today, only 30% of all loans in the country are made by banks.

"The way credits were evaluated shifted from banks to a rating system. The banking industry got it [approving loans] right 99 percent of the time."

King says millions of dollars of capital were misallocated in the securitization market and he pointed out the disconnect with "the risk too high but the rate of interest [on loans] too low."  

"Fundamentally what created the problem was too little capital and too much leverage. The challenge that we have is what we should do. Where we go from here is a function of leadership and where the economy is today is kind of stuck. Reality has set in and business leaders are starting to focus on uncertainty, while business people are unwilling to take risks."

The explanation of the economic problem led King to his focus on leadership. He spoke of core values that are among the guiding tenants of his Winston-Salem based bank, including honesty, integrity, good judgment, success and happiness.

Success is bred when an individual commits to productivity, teamwork and justice, King notes. Happiness, he adds, is about self-esteem and "what you think about yourself."

"If you could get it [self-esteem] from someone else, it would be called we-esteem or they-esteem."

King shared a story of building a small exterior ramp for his wheelchair-bound mother-in-law. He said he completed the project for her in an afternoon and one of his mother-in-law's wheelchair-bound neighbors came over to admire his handiwork. That neighbor asked King questions about the ramp's construction, and ended up noting that King's ramp was a much better ramp than he had at his residence. King said that conversation with the neighbor presented him with an opportunity to build his own self-esteem by volunteering to build the neighbor a new ramp at no cost. He said he completed the neighbor's ramp, and in doing so, he made himself feel good.

He shared some characteristics of outstanding achievers whom he said believe in what they're trying to accomplish; commit the time, energy and resources to make it happen; train themselves to have better skills than anyone else; enjoy what they are doing; and realize that life is very brief.

"This is it: the genius of life is to grab a hold of and live in the moment. It's really critical that you own your life. At the end of your day, there's just you."

King, a native North Carolinian, grew up on his family's tobacco farm outside of Zebulon. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and his MBA from East Carolina University. He also attended Stonier Graduate School of Banking at Rutgers University in Newark, N.J. He joined BB&T's Management Development Program in 1972 and has since served in many roles, including manager of the Central and Metropolitan regions, Raleigh city executive, Charlotte business services manager, Statesville consumer lending manager, and banking manager for BB&T's branch network. Before his election to CEO on Jan. 1, 2009, King served as BB&T's chief operating officer from 2004 to 2008.

Prior speakers in the Distinguished CEO Lecture Series 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; and Robert Wagner, Lowe's senior vice president of specialty sales and store operations support.


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