Former Bank President & CEO Shares Thoughts on Success

John Allison, former president and Chief Executive Officer of BB&T Bank, came to speak to the MMS class this past Monday. Mr. Allison shared his thoughts and philosophy on business, and imparted his wisdom to students. It was quite impressive to have someone of such stature address our class directly, and highlight the lessons that he learned over his years at BB&T. The bank, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was founded in Wilson, NC, and primarily serves the Southeast. Throughout the recent financial crisis, BB&T was one of the only banks in the United States to remain virtually unaffected by the negative economy. It is this fact, accompanied with his 20 years of executive experience that lends such weight and credibility to John Allison’s words … plus, he’s a Fuqua alumnus.

Mr. Allison is steeped in personal philosophy and wisdom, and has channeled these philosophies into business practices. He was candid in his remarks about how he managed people, emphasizing the need for personal accountability and honesty in the business environment. This philosophy seems to run contrary to that of the stereotypical business mantra of “whatever it takes to make a profit.” Being honest and responsible toward yourself and your customers, claims Mr. Allison, is exactly the way to build a stable, profitable organization. It was nice to hear someone advocating responsibility amidst rumors of corporate greed and corruption, and Mr. Allison has lived by his words.

We learned that the BB&T value system consists of 10 core values that all employees must understand and abide by. Mr. Allison endorses these values, and explained them in detail to us. These values were laid down by the bank’s executives to create an atmosphere of professionalism and integrity.

One of the most inspiring parts of his discussion was his emphasis on personal accomplishment. He pointed out that “earning,” and not money, was what drove people to be successful. When asked about the origins of many of his ideas about life and business, he cited Aristotle, Socrates, and even Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as sources of inspiration.

Mr. Allison concluded his speech with a few thoughts and then took several questions about current business issues. In his responses, he seemed to gravitate back to honesty and personal integrity as the driver of success in his career. Mr. Allison received his MBA from Fuqua in 1974, and on behalf of the MMS class of 2012, I would like to thank him for sharing his wisdom with us.