As BB&T Expands, Maryland Region Leadership Team Focuses On Future
Picture a sun-drenched, workday in downtown Baltimore. High in the sky, on the 22nd floor of Harborplace Office Tower, banking executives at Branch Banking and Trust Company (BB&T) gather in a corner office. Here, well-seasoned professionals comprise a new leadership team for BB&T’s Maryland region.
The view of the Inner Harbor is stellar as is the leadership lineup.
Christopher Holt, regional president for Maryland; David J. Garbarino, market president; Allison L. J. Robinson, senior vice president, retail and small business banking manager; and Thomas A. Sychuk, senior vice president, commercial real estate manager. Michael Cox, senior vice president, regional corporate banking manager drops by, too.
While fully embracing their official job titles, affectionately they offer up more-to-the-point nicknames. Garbarino is the self-described “lifer at BB&T” with 17 years’ company experience. Sychuk is the “new guy,” having joined BB&T in July 2016. Robinson is known for her “enthusiastic positive attitude (a.k.a. EPA) and the ability to turn it into actions that benefit our team.” Cox weighs in as “the generalist.”
As for Holt, it’s in his corner office where they sit. Holt brings skill sets described by these phrases: consensus builder; team focused; goal and vision driven; problem-solver through fact-based communication; positive coaching of associates, among others.
Holt illuminates that this team is not new to banking. But they are new “together” in banking. This new leadership unit formed in the wake of moves on the local banking front set in motion when BB&T acquired Susquehanna Bank for $2.5 billion.
“When a merger of that size takes place, you know there is going to be some turn over. It’s natural with two major players joining forces,” says Ed Brake, CEO at Ellin & Tucker, a certified public accounting and business consulting firm. Brake serves as chair of the advisory board for BB&T’s Baltimore region, and his role with BB&T pre-dates his company becoming a customer 10 years ago.
Brake praises the bank. “BB&T has a lot to offer my company,” a privately-held firm with 120 employees. “They are quick and reactive to my business needs,” offering more than traditional banking. “BB&T is a big bank that feels like a community bank. It understands the needs of private business owners in our community. It understands the need to put time and resources of the bank into non-profits [here]. It shows vested interest in the region.”
Adds Brake, “Maryland is not BB&T’s home state, but it doesn’t care. It treats us as if we are its home state.” That’s due, in part, to the role of BB&T’s region president and leadership team, now guiding approximately 588 people in the Baltimore area and 99 branches here.
Headquartered in Winston-Salem, N.C., BB&T operates 2,249 financial centers in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Founded in 1872, BB&T is the ninth largest commercial bank by assets in the United States today. BB&T is consistently recognized for outstanding client satisfaction by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Greenwich Associates and others. Bloomberg Markets Magazine ranked it 15th among the world’s strongest banks in 2015.
The newly formed Maryland region leadership team takes it all in stride.
“Banks should give good advice,” says Garbarino. “All a bank is, really, is a reflection of the success, or failures, of our clients.” With that in mind, Maryland’s leadership team stands at the ready. Holt describes his team as “collaborative, cohesive and constructive.”
Brake notes the “tag team” placement of Holt and Garbarino within the new leadership. Previously, Holt worked for 17 years at Susquehanna Bank prior to its acquisition.
“Holt is a great leader of people. He understands banking really well. He knows the importance of being engaged in the community,” says Brake. “Garbarino is a BB&T guy. He understands the culture, vision and mission there.”
BB&T culture holds full court press inside a burgundy-colored pamphlet, affectionately known as “the red book.” Inside it, bank vision and mission come to life. Inspirational phrases leap off the pages: “to create the best financial institution possible,” “the best of the best” and “to make the world a better place to live.”
“Their mission statement resonates with me,” says Brake. “Make the world better. Help clients. Help employees get opportunities. Be engaged in community. Create long-term value to their shareholders.
“Consistently, they drive to their mission. It’s a very successful group of employees and clients in the community,” says Brake.
Room with a View
Holt comes to BB&T with 30 years banking industry experience. Originally, he landed in Baltimore in the late 1980s with First American Bank after working as a banker in northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. Newly arrived, his then-office on the 26th floor of a newly-built skyscraper, known at the time as Legg Mason building, offered him a room with a skyline view.
Today, Holt has a new job with a new bank in that very same building. “For my first job in Baltimore, I worked upstairs on the 26th floor,” shares Holt. Granted, his current office sits four floors lower, but he’s only moved up – tapped to lead the Maryland region for BB&T, one of the nation’s largest financial holding companies boasting total assets of $221.9 billion and market capitalization of $29 billion.
Holt shares that he’s inspired by the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” “That’s why I’m in this industry. To make a difference. I believe [banking] is a noble profession based on the fact that it really helps people,” says Holt, who serves on the board of the Maryland Bankers Association.
Holt knows “leadership counts and management matters.” He’s up for the task with the Maryland Region team at BB&T. “We can handle everything from a startup business to Under Amour,” he says.
As Holt glances out his window at a magnificent view of Baltimore City, he sees sweeping change. “When I first came here, the focus was on the Inner Harbor. From my original office, I saw the News American building torn down. I witnessed construction of T. Rowe Price from my office window. Today, I see so much new construction and energy in Harbor East, Canton, Locust Point, neighborhoods around Johns Hopkins Hospital, and even the historical financial district. Significant other projects include stadium construction, Montgomery Park re-use, and Maryland Biotech parks. Baltimore consistently demonstrates the grit and vision to be a great city. I have witnessed and been a participant in significant and positive change. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to work at BB&T, with people and a company that is committed to community,” says Holt.
Giving Back to Community
“Our leadership team takes a leadership role in the community,” stresses Holt. Under that auspice, philanthropy takes the stage. Recently, this leadership team assisted a Cystic Fibrosis fundraiser. Holt serves as treasurer at the Maryland Council of Economic Education, a financial literacy effort in Maryland schools.
Garbarino’s current board positions include Junior Achievement, Boy Scouts of America and Downtown Partnership, among others. Proudly, he chairs Festival of Trees, which benefits Kennedy Krieger Institute.
Even the “new guy” looks forward to do his share while managing BB&T’s Maryland commercial real estate team. Sychuk, a well-known, high-performing real estate expert who made the decision to move to BB&T, has served on boards at the Maryland Science Center and the University of Baltimore’s real estate advisory committee. He guest lectures on real estate finance at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown universities. He admits to a bent for “education-related” fare.
Robinson notes the bank’s formal relationship with Operation Hope. “Baltimore is one of two markets designated by BB&T, which has partnered with Operation Hope to fully fund and support a small business coach for Baltimore,” she says. “Located in Edmondson in Baltimore City, they work with an entire team at all our locations to support business owner success. The most exciting part is these resources are provided at no cost. It’s part of our ongoing commitment to our community.”
Not to be outshined, BB&T’s Lighthouse Project delivers results. It allows individuals to give back to the community in a personal way. “It’s not just about writing a check,” says Holt. “We roll up our sleeves and work on projects,” says Garbarino. Robinson smiles as she recounts “working with yard tools” on behalf of Arc of Baltimore.
Says Holt, “the BB&T chairman allows us to invest in our community by giving each associate eight paid hours of leave in order to work with a chosen charity.” Established in 2008, BB&T’s Lighthouse Project nationwide reports more than 385,000 volunteer hours given to impact the lives of more than 11 million people.
BB&T Leadership Institute
Many eyes alight when discussing the BB&T Leadership Institute. Nascent together, “as a team we are going through some aspects of it in early August,” says Holt. BB&T clients, too, have access to the Institute, which deals with mastering leadership dynamics.
“The quality of an organization’s performance cannot exceed the quality of its leadership,” says Dr. James Farr, a pioneer in application of psychological principals to leadership development. Fifty years ago, he founded the program originally called Farr Associates. Today, it’s a BB&T Corporation subsidiary.
Promoted as “grounded in science, proven in business,” the Institute applies knowledge of and application of neuropsychology to human behavior in business settings, according to BB&T. Based in High Point, N.C., the Institute serves clients throughout the United States. It offers leadership development programs, executive team workshops, one-on-one executive coaching and human resources consulting. “It’s unique,” says Cox. “I have never seen another bank do it. It helps existing management teams get better, and grooms new management teams for success.”
Focus on the Future
“Business people need to surround themselves with a good advisors – accountant, insurance, law firm and bank,” says Cox.
Adds Garbarino, “Don’t be intimidated by a bank. Business men and women should demand value from their bank and their banker. They should look for a true partner.”
Granted, negative stereotypes of banks exist.
“If someone has a poor notion of a bank, they haven’t met us – yet,” says Robinson. “They might be surprised how much we want to hear their story. Where they’ve been and where they want to go. We want a relationship, not just a transaction.”
“Relationship banking is an overused term, but it does matter,” says Garbarino. “If you want a true relationship, look to BB&T. Our customers include us in how they run and grow their business.”
Sychuk says he joined the BB&T team for the opportunity to grow businesses. “It’s challenging work, with long days and long nights,” says Garbarino. “There are no banker’s hours anymore,” says Robinson, who values her role on the leadership team.
“Being a leader of significance in this industry and being female is a tremendous opportunity. I would not have this opportunity if it weren’t for the women before me. They opened the door for me. My job is to open the door wider for other women. The phrase ‘lean in’ appropriately describes how I, and other women, need to carry ourselves to keep the progression of diversity in leadership evolving.”
Diversity echoes throughout the bank’s customers as well. For anyone in the market for a bank, Brake offers sage advice. “BB&T is a great option. If you are looking for a bank, they should be on your list of people to talk to,” he says. “BB&T could be of great value to you.” I95