Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with John Medlin, May 24, 1999. Interview I-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Choosing limited expansion

In the 1980s, at a time when other banks were diversifying, Medlin steered Wachovia in a more conservative direction, focusing on traditional banking and proceeding cautiously with overseas expansion. As he considers this expansion, he discusses the rise of Wachovia after the Civil War and the bank's guiding tenets.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with John Medlin, May 24, 1999. Interview I-0076. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

At a time when some of the others were heading in these diverse directions we went to hell bent for leather on basic banking. Our concerns then were the marriage of technology and personal service. How we deal with our business with rampant inflation and high interest rates that are going up and down. Interest rates had not reached their peak. They actually didn't reach their peak until 1982. We had a terrible recession and high money rates to face in the early '80s, which is what really drove deregulation finally in the political scene with the Garn-St. Germain Deregulation Act in Washington and some of those things. So we were on a strategic track that was really intent on our internal growth of our business. We couldn't go across state lines. We did open offices overseas. I think we went-I can't remember the exact years but we went to, we had an office in Zurich, Switzerland. We put check-clearing facilities, we put an office in New York City and an Edge Act office- [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
Okay this is side B of the first cassette with Mr. Medlin.
We opened an office in New York City, which was permitted under the Edge Act to clear international transactions. We opened check clearing facilities in Dallas and Atlanta before we were able to go there otherwise and tried to pierce the veil of regulation wherever it was possible to do so legally and expand our business nationally and internationally. But being cautious with the overseas part of it. Witness what happened in the early '80s with the less developed countries lending, and we were involved in that but we weren't involved to the point that it was terribly troublesome. We had covered North Carolina pretty fully. Wachovia, you have to go back a little bit here and point out that Wachovia was founded in 1879. Had its first branch outside of Winston-Salem in 1902 in High Point; in 1903 in Asheboro and Salisbury; 1920s in Raleigh; 1930s in Charlotte. Then after World War Two in the '50s, Wilmington, Burlington, a number of other cities, Goldsboro. Then in the 1970s it pretty much completed the covering of the state, from Andrews in the far West to Elizabeth City in the far East. So there wasn't much place to go in North Carolina. So we were basically intent on using our present North Carolina banks for full service banking and going outside internationally and nationally and cash management and check clearing and those kinds of things where we could have permissible on the ground facilities elsewhere. We eventually put an office in Chicago somewhere along the way. Anyway, this was our growth. We knew that, we thought that somewhere along the way we'd have a chance to do what we did is to go into other states, but we needed to be good at what we were already doing to be ready for that. Our competition, we really didn't, North Carolina, one thing that Wachovia can take credit for is really spawning statewide banking in North Carolina. We had no restrictions since the Civil War. Communities wanted you to come and open a bank. There was no real restriction. The state was still so poor after the Depression and even after World War Two that you had no trouble being kept out anywhere. We really, I think inspired what was then North Carolina National Bank in 1970, in 1960, which was a merger of American Commercial Bank in Charlotte and Security Bank in Greensboro with an office in Raleigh. We were something of an inspiration behind First Union, which was a major Asheville bank, and Charlotte bank that got together and began to have some competition. We have had the experience of statewide banking now for almost a hundred years, ninety-eight, ninety-nine and others for only forty years. Size has never been our goal. Excellence and quality is our goal. You put your blinders on and hope you've read the competitive market place well and try to do the best you can with what you're permitted to do and where you're permitted to do it. To be able to look back on what you have done for these constituencies, shareholders. Shareholders don't really care about how big you are. They care about what happens to their stock. Customers don't care about how big you are; they care about the service that you give them. The employees don't care about how big you are as long as they have a good job and growth opportunities and the public interests often cares that you are too big or thinks may have too much economic power and concentration of resources and all that.