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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 community giving

Here, Medlin discusses corporate responsibility, sharing his belief that giving has become more altruistic over time. He responds to the Community Reinvestment Act—which requires some degree of local giving—and describes some of Wachovia's scholarship programs.

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

The last general area I wanted to explore a little bit with you is the whole issue of corporate civic responsibility and married to that the role of the modern chief Executive as someone to whom a society turns to seek leadership on these issues that aren't business matters directly at all. And how, what you're experience was like in those regards and your views on those issues. How you charted a course for Wachovia and yourself on those fronts.
As I've said earlier, I've always seen public interest as one of my, and the Wachovia Chief Executives have had that tradition, of seeing the public interest as one of their responsibilities and providing leadership to issues that cut across the community lines, the political lines, whatever, is very important. It's something I think that it takes sort of self-interest forms that you don't want to do business in a place that is socially undesirable or disrupted or whatever. There is a certain amount of self-interest, but there is also altruistic interest in that too. Things that I have done since I retired have tended to tilt more toward that public interest, chairing a commission to evaluate and try to reform and improve the court system in North Carolina, which is no direct self-interest. But it is something that I have spent a couple of years on and still can't get it through, much of it through the legislature. But we keep working on it, those kinds of things. Back on the Research Triangle Foundation board, the Winston-Salem Foundation Board. Very important and it is an American tradition and practice, as you go across other parts of the world it is still somewhat unique, our civic institutions. I became most starkly clear when I was in Eastern Europe last year, Czechoslovakia now Czech Republic. They were talking about how they were trying to reestablish their, or establish the kinds of volunteer. They don't have a United Way or social organizations that we do. There are political forces that say you don't want to start them either.
Right. Interesting question.
And we had a forum several places talking about that. But it's something I think that's uniquely American, and it's very important to continue. I would be unfair to say that the generation that preceded me was not as civic minded, but I think it was more patriarchal. It was more patriarchal. It was sort of what your forebearers did and you did. But now I think it's probably a more humanistic flavor to it, more altruistic flavor.
Do you think that the demands that are made on an institution like Wachovia are fair to the bank. I'm thinking of things like the Community Reinvestment Act, just the number of calls that must come in when you're Chief Executive asking for your time, your efforts, your money? Is that all happening in a way, in a shape that seems reasonable and fair? Are there other better ways that this could be worked out?
I think where things like CRA end up, if we had had what the activists along those lines wanted, we'd have something that would be bad. If we'd have had what the banks maybe wanted at the outset which was nothing, that maybe was not good either. There were a lot of banks around the country, including ours, that were already doing CRA type things without being required too. There were a bunch that weren't. So I think you had to accept some requirements along those lines to be part of an industry that was doing what it should. But I don't consider that, I think we learned to live with all that. I think we consider it, I don't think, I certainly didn't during my time, consider it unreasonable. Although the paperwork part of it was. Now that you have the form, there is more concentration on form than substance. Your paperwork could look good, and you still weren't doing much because you've got some numbers up. I don't consider it unreasonable. There's always a problem of priorities and time. We can't do everything that we want to do. It's sometimes have to say no. I can't do that. I don't have time to do that. No we don't have any money left. We're up to our ears in competitive banking. But there has been a time or two like back in the '80s, John McNair that was running the North Carolina bank for me at that time, was in charge of the branches. We were getting all these requests coming and said, 'We don't have enough money to do all of these. Let's do something we want to do.' So we sent out the word and gathered, had a little study done. So we decided we wanted to start giving scholarships to community colleges. They've never asked us for anything. There were people going to these colleges a lot of them single mothers that didn't have enough money. They were having to work. They didn't have enough money to eat or have a car or a sitter or whatever, day care. So we started giving scholarships, and this has been one of the greatest things we've ever done. Some upwards of two thousand of these scholarships since then across our one hundred counties. The other things with the education system, we said, 'How do you, what's one of the most important ingredients in having a good K through Twelve education system, a good principal, great school.' We started the Wachovia Principal of the Year program, which was a way to have a competition and putting the spotlight on principals. Gave them $2500 for their school and a $2500 bonus for them for the ones that were selected principal. To do things like that, to reach out and try to deal with some issue that presents itself that isn't coming at you is part of the responsibility I think.