Relationship Banker: Eugene W. Stetson, Wall Street, and American Business, 1916-1959

Article excerpt

Relationship Banker: Eugene W. Stetson, Wall Street, and American Business, 1916-1959. By James L. Hunt. (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 2009. Pp. [xxviii], 386. $35.00, ISBN 978-0-86554-915-9.)

In an era when neither bankers nor the business of banking elicits much confidence from the general public, James L. Hunt's business biography of Eugene W. Stetson reminds us that a successful banking profession is built on trust and responsibility. While Stetson's name is not as well known as other famous or infamous bankers, he was an important banker whose career provides an opportunity to examine significant issues and episodes in banking and business history during the first half of the twentieth century.

Born in 1881, Eugene W. Stetson grew up in Georgia. His father worked as a banker, and Stetson attended public school and then the Gordon Institute in Barnesville. He also attended Mercer University, where he "discovered abilities to lead others, especially on money matters" (p. 26). Although he left Mercer before graduating, he retained a close connection with the college and considered himself to be an alumnus, class of 1901.

Stetson entered the banking profession after leaving Mercer. He first worked as a teller and debt collector for the American National Bank in Macon, Georgia. He spent the next fifteen years in Macon while taking on increasingly important and high-profile banking positions until 1916, when he was hired as a vice president of Guaranty Trust Company of New York. Stetson's relocation to New York did not represent the severing of his ties to southern economic development; instead, he remained committed to assisting the New South whenever possible. At Guaranty, he rose to the position of president in 1941 and chairman of the board in 1944, and during his tenure there he developed a close business relationship with Thomas W. Lamont of J. P. Morgan and Company. Stetson later played a pivotal role in the merger of Guaranty with J. P. Morgan in 1959.

In another significant business episode, Stetson was actively involved in the sale of Coca-Cola by the Asa Candler family in 1919 to an investment group organized by Ernest Woodruff, described as "the largest business transaction in southern history" (p. …