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

Wachovia's record on race

Medlin believes in the importance of a good education, which he thinks can allay race problems. As he considers race, he recalls a class action lawsuit filed against Wachovia, despite the fact that Wachovia had made an effort to hire minorities. Despite difficulties like this lawsuit, Medlin believes Wachovia has a good record on race.

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

You mentioned the issue of the relative spending, the state's priorities on Higher Ed and K through twelve. I'm wondering just generally if you would contribute your reflections on the issue of the state's fiscal priorities of that sort, how happy you are with the state's tax policies as they have unfolded in the last couple of decades and on the spending side as well.
JOHN MEDLIN:
Well, my comment on spending more on higher education doesn't say we should spend less there. But it's a, our present resources there probably is a higher percent spent there than other states would spend on higher education. That probably relates to the fact that we have a sixteen campus university system that really includes some institutions that probably stretch a little bit to call them a university and that, are not in the same league as UNC-CH and NC State and so forth. The politics of that consolidation have cost the state some money that probably could have been spent on K through twelve education. I think we collect about all the taxes we ought to try to collect. I wouldn't say that we necessarily ought to try to cut them either. The needs are there and the budget is tight, and we need to continue to spend to have equal and quality education for everybody. I firmly believe that the way to solve most of society's remaining problems is if everyone gets a good education from Kindergarten up through whatever higher level they deserve to or need to go in a professional training and some of that would divert off into other fields after, during high school or after high school rather than necessarily a liberal arts education. Then I think we'd make a lot of progress on the race problems. If you dig into the race issue, its economic inequality is bred by educational inequality. It may not solve every problem, but it would certainly solve a lot of them.
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
Right. Right. Let me ask you for a few further thoughts on the whole race question. I guess during your tenure as CEO here, you would've witnessed not the very beginnings but a substantial portion of the integration of African-Americans, women into the Wachovia workforce and watched it happen in the workforce more generally in North Carolina. Can you talk about sort of managing that process, observing that process, key things that stand out in your mind about that whole part of our history?
JOHN MEDLIN:
Well, by the time I went into senior management in 1970, it was sort of an accepted fact that we did not discriminate based on race, sex, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Some added, additional, some things have been added since then. But yes it was something. By the time certainly in my divisional area and later on in the whole company, that I worked very personally, very hard at to the point of actually doing a good bit of interviewing of people coming in because in those days you still had to not only do some selling inside, you had to do some selling of the people to come in. Do you really mean what you say? And if they heard the head of the, Executive Vice President say it or the Chief Executive Officer, they maybe took it a little bit more seriously than some recruiter. So I think, trying to make sure we got good people that we got the best people. It's something I worked very hard on, and we had goals on. We made progress on and the difficulty always was keeping. If you hired somebody and they turned out to be very good, it was also recognized by outsiders too and keeping them became a problem as much as hiring, getting them in the first place. About all the good minorities and women who had gone to seek other fortunes over the years. We have a good retention rate; don't get me wrong. This is not unusual. We have more in the upper reaches now. We have two [unclear] .
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
Reflecting back, was it a process that presented any undue hurdles or complications, fairly smooth pattern of integration across those years.
JOHN MEDLIN:
Well, we had a class action suit in 1974-
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
I wasn't aware of that.
JOHN MEDLIN:
After considerable frustration with our attorneys that were talking to other class action attorney that happened to be Julius Chambers, prominent civil rights attorney. I finally got in my car one day without the knowledge of our attorneys and went down to see Julius and said, 'Julius, look who has done a better job of hiring minorities in North Carolina than Wachovia?' He said, 'Nobody.' I said, 'Well, why in the world would you want to pick us out?' He said, 'Because if we get you then they know the rest of them are going to be even scareder.' I said, 'How do we settle this damned thing? We don't deserve this.' So we eventually once the conversations were opened and we got it settled, and it was not representative of what we had done. It was just the publicity. I don't care. You go to any company in this country and if you can't find a case that can be made and can look very bad, I'd be surprised because of what somebody on the line down there somewhere does that you don't know about. You can make speeches and have policies and write memos, and you're not going to get one hundred percent perfection. Those are the kinds of things that we got caught in. Your numbers are never going to do-you start doing average salaries and all that stuff, and you're going to still have problems. No. It was not without its anxieties and frustrations and worries. It was something that I think we had a good record on.
JOSEPH MOSNIER:
How about, you mentioned that a generation ago, twenty or thirty years ago, you had folks down working in the front lines in the company, any company here or elsewhere. There's a mindset that prevailed at the time among some small number of folks that could cause these kinds of problems. Today and not just Wachovia, generally, do you think that that's much less significant of an issue? Does it prevail still as a problem in a significant way? Has the corporate and business mindset really fundamentally changed?
JOHN MEDLIN:
Well I'm five years out of the trenches so to speak having really retired from management at the end of '93. I think it's a less significant problem. To say there aren't some of those problems there would be not true, I think, because there are still people with attitudinal failings that built up over years, just plain carelessness sometimes with some of the kinds of remarks that you hear people make. They aren't really racist, but they say stupid things and some of those do stupid things. I think the trend line is good.