Mack family's imprints help define Mooresville

John Mack is a big name on Wall Street, the chief executive of storied Morgan Stanley and a central player in the historic and panicked transformation taking hold of the country's financial system.

Mack, 63, has also left a mark on the little North Carolina town where he grew up. In Mooresville, about 30 miles north of Charlotte, the Mack name is on the citizen center in the middle of town. Down the street, the nascent Mooresville Museum is moving into what used to be the Mack wholesale store, courtesy of the CEO.

Mitchell Mack, a cousin of the chief executive, is a former town commissioner, and other Macks are also active in the community. John Mack is the only family member who up and moved to New York, the cousin said. The rest are still in the Carolinas.

This week, Mack stepped directly into the financial markets' fray when he fielded a call from another N.C. native, Bob Steel. Mack and Steel, who is the CEO of Charlotte-based Wachovia Corp., have talked about a merger, though few details have emerged.

It's not the first time that whispers of a Wachovia-Morgan Stanley deal have popped up, particularly with Mack's ties to the Tar Heel state. When dissension emerged within Morgan Stanley's ranks in 2005, Wachovia and Charlotte's other banking giant, Bank of America, were both named as possible buyers of the New York firm.

Mack, like Steel, is a Duke graduate, and both have served together for more than a decade on the school's board of trustees. Erskine Bowles, a graduate of Duke's archrival and the president of the UNC system, is on Mack's board of directors.

The chief executive is a third-generation American, according to Mitchell Mack. Their grandfather, also named John Mack, came to the U.S. from Lebanon by way of Ellis Island in 1903. He ended up in North Carolina when an agent at Grand Central Station put him on the wrong train, and he made a living by peddling clothing across the countryside.

A few years ago, the younger Mack donated $4.5 million to expand Mooresville's citizen center, which residents use for banquets and seminars. Mack came to the dedication, said Stephanie Crisco, the center's supervisor. The building now bears the name of Mack's father, Charles, who ran the Charles Mack and Sons wholesale store. The rooms were named in honor of the family heritage: the Merchant Room, the Cedars Room and the Peddler Room.