First Union's Choice for President Built Reputation in Capital Markets

By Weidner, David | American Banker, August 2, 1999 | Go to article overview

First Union's Choice for President Built Reputation in Capital Markets


Weidner, David, American Banker


In the last three years of a 23-year career at First Union Corp., G. Kennedy Thompson has been on a remarkable rise.

He reached new heights Thursday when the Charlotte, N.C., banking company said Mr. Thompson, a vice chairman and head of capital markets, will become president and chief operating officer at yearend. He succeeds John R. Georgius, who is leaving First Union.

It was a move that surprised few observers. At a bank mired in profitability and customer service issues, Mr. Thompson, 48, carried a reputation as a banker armed with an uncanny knowledge of how to build a business-even one he wasn't expert in.

"I don't believe you need to know everything about securitizing a mortgage to manage the capital markets business," he told American Banker in April. He was unavailable for comment Friday.

But analysts also caution that Mr. Thompson has risen through a series of promotions that had as much to do with his most-favored status with chief executive officer Edward E. Crutchfield as with his achievements.

"He's been moving from good position to good position on a basis I'm not quite sure of," said Peter Kuper, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. "On the other hand, capital markets is doing very well. They identified an opportunity and really nailed it."

A commercial banker who headed First Union's Florida franchise in the early to mid-1990s, Mr. Thompson took over the two-year-old capital markets division as co-head in 1996.

Mr. Thompson has built the business through strategic acquisitions, unrestrained by the cost-cutting that was occurring in some other parts of First Union.

"He was given carte blanche," Mr. Kuper said. He likened it to a salary cap on a sports team: If the cap were lifted, the wealthiest teams would consistently win championships.

In 1998, Mr. Thompson spearheaded the $491 million acquisition of Wheat First Butcher Singer, a Richmond, Va., brokerage, and led a deal to buy Bowles Hollowell & Conner, a Charlotte-based merger and acquisition boutique. He then set about restructuring the capital markets division to maximize cross-selling and retain corporate clients.

The spending spree also included a $100 million advertising campaign-an unheard of budget for a capital markets team-and a boost in staffing. …

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