Opinion

Some welcoming advice for Wachovia's new CEO

Welcome to Charlotte, Bob Steel. As new CEO of Charlotte's Wachovia bank, you are probably hearing from hundreds of folks. We'll add our voice to the chorus.

You're Tar Heel-born – and a Duke graduate, too – and that means you understand far more about this place than if you had come from somewhere like Wyoming or upstate New York. But Charlotte in many ways is not like Durham, your hometown, or Raleigh. We don't have a Mike Krzyzewski or Roy Williams or the governor. Our bankers play that celebrity role.

That may help explain why people will be watching what you do here: what church and clubs you join, what color ties you wear, which neighborhood you live in and – especially – whether you rent or buy a home. A cautionary word: If you rent, expect Charlotteans (note: NOT “charlatans”) to become extremely nervous.

For years people here watched Hugh and Ed (McColl of Bank of America and Crutchfield of First Union, respectively). We've just ended the time of the two Kens (Lewis of B of A and Thompson of Wachovia). Mr. McColl and Mr. Crutchfield were keenly interested in their headquarters city. So were their successors. Mr. McColl's devotion to the arts and to downtown revitalization created dinosaur-sized footprints here. Mr. Crutchfield's interest in education shaped the region's endeavors.

You're arriving in a different era. Wachovia is deeply troubled. The bank expects to post up to a $2.8 billion loss for the second quarter. Unlike the '80s and '90s glory days, when Charlotte improbably produced two of the nation's four top banks, not everything our banks touch now turns to gold, to say the least.

As you get to know the city and learn your way through all the Queens roads, the Sharons and the Quails, you'll have dozens of invitations to be on civic boards and committees. This is a committee-loving city, dating to its Scots-Irish Presbyterian roots. Whenever local problems are diagnosed, we form a committee to tackle them, and the Wachovia CEO will be expected to be on at least some of them.

We urge you to get involved. Yes, we know you've been hired to stabilize – to save – a big pillar of Charlotte's economic and civic health. That should be No. 1 on your to-do list, and No. 2 and No. 3 as well.

But you've stepped into a role that's bigger than just being a banker. As we said, welcome. The good will of the community goes with you.

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