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 >>

School, news, and history drive decision-making

Medlin shares the sources of inspiration and information that guide him as a business leader: schooling, current events, and history.

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

Here's a question that might, I don't know if I put this quite right in the notes I sent to you before hand. I'm very interested in how a person who's leading a major business enterprise like Wachovia over the years, where you get your source. What you draw upon as sources of information and perspective to help you both, obviously the particular information you need about the bank mostly will come from inside and maybe from near tier banking associations and trade groups. But to help you think more widely, where are you reaching out for sources of perspective. How do you put that together?
Well, I think that changes as you go up the ladder. In my own metamorphosis in that regard as I said earlier, accounting and finance, things you learn in business school are important early on. When you get to be Chief Executive Officer, philosophy and political science and psychologically, the liberal arts education becomes a lot more important. Where you get that information, professional part of banking I guess became sort of second nature, almost secondary as Chief Executive Officer. You still had to understand what was happening to the business. You didn't worry as much about the transactional, operational part as you did the strategic issues. The strategic issues then begin to border on these humanities courses and disciplines, liberal arts courses, history obviously is one of those. I always read. I read several newspapers a day. Always the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and some local papers and Atlanta when we got to Atlanta, so you knew what was happening, what was being said by people, editorials and whatever. But to read all kinds of things that you get your hands on. One of the more interesting books I've read in recent years, really since I've retired, was a book about the Renaissance about how-it's called The Worldly Goods by Lisa Jardin who talks about some of the economic aspects of the Renaissance. Amazing similarities to and some of the, you can look at a period like that and maybe you see where things go in the [unclear] . You take the printing press mid 1400s very similar to the computer in terms of information explosion. The explorers going across the world a lot like international trading trading with NAFTA and so forth. She makes the point, made the point that you often think about the art with the Renaissance, but it didn't have art until you had wealth. Leonardo da Vinci was a surveyor until, 'By the way I can do pictures too' or paintings. I think you get some sense of these things. The merchant banking, the Venetian merchants, Medici and really Columbus was financed ostensibly by Ferdinand and Isabel. But they just were the names on the syndicate. A group of Jewish merchant bankers really put most of the money up. But those are the kinds of things that happened back then. Financing of satellites and aircraft. So I think reading history is a shorter winded way of saying what's happened before us. Economic history but also other kinds of history.