Edward E. Crutchfield, 82, dies; Transaction banking has reshaped the industry

Edward E. Crutchfield, 82, dies;  Transaction banking has reshaped the industry

Edward E. Crutchfield, who grew a small North Carolina bank into one of the nation’s largest through a trading spree that earned him the nickname Fast Eddie and helped make Charlotte, Carolina North, a national financial center, died January 2 at his home in Vero Beach, Florida. He was 82 years old.

His death was confirmed by his son, Elliott, who said his father suffered from dementia.

When Mr. Crutchfield graduated from business school in 1965, he took a job as a credit analyst at First Union Bank in Charlotte. It was the lowest paying job offered to him, but he thought he could progress more quickly at a smaller bank. He sensed opportunity there and in the region, he told his family and colleagues.

Both intuitions paid off. At 32, just seven years after joining the First Union, he became its president. He was believed to be the youngest person in the country to hold that title at a major bank.

Mr. Crutchfield’s ambitions were broadened by a 1985 Supreme Court ruling legalizing interstate banking. The move allowed him, then chairman and CEO of his bank, to gobble up rival banks and failing thrift stores, transforming First Union into a super-regional bank with thousands of branches throughout the Southeast.

“I just had a feeling that what turned out to be the Sun Belt would be a good bet,” he told the New York Times in 1983, shortly before he began his buying spree. “I guess we’re rubbing the rabbit’s foot the right way.”

By the time Mr. Crutchfield retired in 2000, First Union had acquired more than 90 banking and loan companies and become the nation’s sixth-largest bank by assets. In 2001, First Union merged with Wachovia, taking over the name of the other bank. Wells Fargo bought Wachovia in 2008, during the crisis that reshaped the financial industry.

Mr. Crutchfield’s imprint lives on in the outsized role Charlotte still plays in banking. Wells Fargo employs 27,000 people there, more than it employs at its San Francisco headquarters.

“Ed just had a vision that we could become one of the best and one of the largest banks in America, and that’s what he grew,” said Austin Adams, who served as director of First Union information for 17 years.

Edward Elliott Crutchfield Jr. was born July 14, 1941, in Dearborn, Michigan, and grew up in Albemarle, North Carolina, a rural town about 40 miles east of Charlotte. His father worked for the FBI before becoming a lawyer and county judge. His mother, Katherine (Sikes) Crutchfield, was a high school teacher.

He attended Davidson College in North Carolina on a football scholarship and graduated in 1963, then earned an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. His marriage to Nancy Robson ended in divorce. In 1996, he married Barbara Massa, who was First Union’s director of corporate communications. She survives him.

In addition to her and his son, Elliott, from his first marriage, he is survived by a daughter, Sally Davis, also from his first marriage; a daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Howze; and five grandchildren.

At First Union, Mr. Crutchfield quickly established himself as a go-getter. Shortly after joining the bank, he established the municipal bond department. In 1968, at age 26, he was asked to resolve serious problems in the bank’s credit card operations. He kept the back office open 24 hours a day and brought a cot to sleep on.

“I felt like I had to be there to greet the midnight shift and the 8 o’clock shift,” he told the Times.

As a manager, he had a reputation for not delegating, a style he had to adapt as the bank grew. But when he acquired a new bank, one of the first things he did was take over its investment portfolio. He also was quick to rebrand new acquisitions, developing what Mr. Adams called “the fastest integration model in the country.”

“It was never more than 11 months from the time we announced the transaction to the time we converted all the systems, changed the brands, the products, the branches, everything,” Adams said .

Mr. Crutchfield was “a quintessential Southerner” who loved hunting, fly fishing and living far from Wall Street, his son said. “He appreciated our underdog status,” he added, “and got as much pleasure from seeing Charlotte outpace its rivals as First Union outpaced the other banks.”

When aiming at a target, Mr. Crutchfield did not like to be defeated. To persuade Malcolm McDonald to sell Signet Banking Corporation to First Union in 1997 for $3.25 billion, Mr. Crutchfield joked, “I just kept stacking billion-dollar bills on the table until which Mac says yes. »

There were stumbles. In 1998, First Union purchased CoreStates Financial for $17 billion – a record six times the bank’s book value and, at the time, the largest bank merger in U.S. history – and then lost 20 percent of CoreStates’ two million customers in an effort to direct them away from human cashiers and toward telephone and Internet services. One of Mr Crutchfield’s last purchases, from home equity lender Money Store, turned into a cash sink and was quickly closed by his successor.

Ken Gepfert, a First Union employee who wrote Mr. Crutchfield’s speeches for several years, told his boss that he once recounted a conversation he had with his father, who was also a devoted fisherman , about the acquisitionist tendency of his bank.

“His father said, ‘Son, I hope you don’t catch these faster than you can put them on,'” Mr. Gepfert said. “Ed knew that First Union had to grow quickly to survive in the interstate banking industry. But privately, he always said one of his biggest fears was that First Union would grow too big and lose its community roots.

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David B.Otero

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