The Story of Financial Prudence
(1966 to Present)

The Story of Financial Prudence
(1966 to Present)

Introduction

“While money panics and financial collapses are not of recent origin, it is undoubtedly true that their intensity, and the frequency with which they have occurred during the last three-quarters of the nineteenth century, are features of modern civilization; that their action is as accelerated, and their effect emphasized, by the cheap and rapid transportation, and the instantaneous communication, between distant points, especially between the sources of supply and the markets for consumption, which are now at the command of the business world. These conditions foster the speculative element in character; and speculation in excess is but the forerunner of disaster and panic.”

– P.W. Huntington, 1899

Introduction

Introduction

In 1964, Helen Crissinger made the two-mile trip from her home on 1509 N. High St. to a soundproof, air-conditioned room on the third floor of the Huntington National Bank office at 17 S. High St. She had come to witness the future. Inside the room, the 70-year-old Crissinger, a former auditor and bookkeeper, viewed the bank’s new Burroughs computer system, which could process more than 1,500 operations per minute.1 Huntington president Clair E. Fultz presented Crissinger with a $25 savings bond and a printout of her checking account statement — the first in Central Ohio to be processed completely electronically.

From its installation in September 1962, the computer represented for Huntington “a landmark in the efforts we are making to provide better, more attractive and more efficient service to our customers,” Fultz said. He underscored that besides speed and accuracy “of equal importance is the fact that this system can free our personnel from the tedious chore of bookkeeping and make them available to provide more personal service for our customers.”2 Several years later, on the bank’s centennial, the ever-growing “robot” was again lauded:

Copy of 1964 Mrs Crissinger - first computer bank statement
1964 Fultz w Mrs Crissinger 1 - first computer bank statement

Above Images: Helen Crissinger, who worked as a bookkeeper when the job was done by hand, tours Huntington’s new Burroughs computer system and receives the first electronically printed checking account statement from Huntington President Clair E. Fultz.

196x Computer System Delivery
196x Computer System Delivery

Above Images: Huntington’s first computer system was so large it had to be transported by crane into the building, where it took over much of the third floor.

This friendly piece of machinery, known as a computer, prints at seven hundred lines per minute. Over 4,000,000 items pass through the bank each month. The computer reads and writes magnetic tape “ledger records” at the speed of 50,000 characters per second. It formerly took nearly two hours to appraise a customer’s trust account, but the mighty computer can appraise several accounts in one minute. Calculation and payment of interest to savings accounts took days before the computer … now it is calculated and paid, for all the offices, in less than two hours. The Huntington employs scientific advancement to its operations. But no mechanical brain upstairs will ever replace the “esprit de corps” of The Huntington Associates … because, after all, “The Huntington is The Huntington”!3

Over the past 50 years, technology became a powerful new force for efficiency and expanded customer service in banking. But this newfound convenience had to be balanced against a desire to maintain a personal, human touch. On multiple occasions, P.W.’s 1899 warning appears prophetic — the advancement of banking technology fostered greed and complex mathematical scheming more than improved service to customers and communities. The challenge for Huntington, and many of its peer banks in this era of drastically accelerated growth and swarming speculation, would be to remain conservatively managed and fiscally prudent.

Untitled

The introduction of high technology into the banking industry freed many Huntington colleagues to devote more time to customer service.

Act 1

Innovation in Action

Huntington was hardly the only Midwestern bank investing in technology in the 1960s. By 1963, the Indianapolis-based Railroadmen’s Federal Savings and Loan had instituted a bookkeeping service featuring “the most advanced automatic equipment.”4 And in 1967, the first National Cash Register 315-100 computer was installed at First Michigan Bank (FMB). That same year, Robert Jay Den Herder was named president. Bob had started at Zeeland State Bank as a teller in 1950 and had helped develop the lender’s burgeoning installment loans business during the decade. In the 1960s, he helped manage the bank’s branching activity in Holland East Town and Douglas. When he was tapped for the presidency, he became the fourth generation of Den Herders to lead the bank. Under Bob’s leadership, in 1970 First Michigan Bank aired its first television commercial and opened the first Port-a-Teller mobile banking kiosk in Michigan.

Drive-thru banking had become a convenience in Columbus several years earlier, with the opening of the Huntington Trust Building on Broad and Front streets in 1965. In March 1969, Huntington began a major effort to introduce Master Charge credit cards in central Ohio. According to Columbus Business Forum, Huntington and its rival Ohio National Bank, “fired opening shots in a campaign that has continued at a fever pitch in the months since, developing a multimillion-dollar business in a matter of weeks.”5

An unconventional marketing approach helped Huntington succeed. Five young women were hired as sales service representatives and traveled to area merchants in a custom-painted Mustang while wearing mod-style fashions.6 Though an eyebrow-raising idea by today’s banking standards, the marketing effort was led by Huntington’s first female vice president, Harriet Bracken.7

“The car dealer wasn’t sure he was hearing correctly when we ordered Mustang fastbacks with racing stripes in Master Charge red and ochre for our girls to use in calling on merchants,” Bracken, Huntington’s public relations director, said with a laugh. “He was really more prepared for an order for black sedans — but like everything else about banking these days, our choice of cars reflects a more modern attitude.”8

Bracken’s elevation to a senior role “put a lot of emphasis not only on her professional capabilities, but also women in the workforce,” said Bob Carlile, who began working at Huntington in 1969. “The Huntington was fairly early in the banking community, and for that matter in Columbus, to make that kind of recognition.… The bank saw the need to get out into the public’s view through community events and advertising, and she became the vehicle for that. That was new in banking.”9

Besides this advertising and public relations work, Bracken helped introduce the bank’s early automated teller machines and was part of the inaugural group inducted into the Ohio Women Hall of Fame in 1978.10

1963 Railroadmens staff w computers
Copy of 1963 Railroadmens customers at sidewalk teller window

Above Images: Railroadmen’s Federal Savings and Loan grew into the 1960s, adding new technology and a modernized headquarters.

195x Robert J Den Herder_https---archives.historyfactory.com-contentengine-detail.cfm-cid=139392

Robert Den Herder takes over as president of First Michigan Bank, 1963.

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Copy of 1970 drive in

Above Images: After opening in November 1966, Huntington advertised its new drive-in windows as a convenient, easier way to bank.

1969-1970 master charge credit card (1)-1
Harriet Bracken - OWHF

Left Image: Female Huntington colleagues with their Master Charge-themed Mustang in 1969.

Right Image: Harriet Bracken, Huntington’s first female vice president.

The Handy-Bank

Building around the ATM concept, Huntington in 1972 pioneered the 24/7, fully automated financial center, known as Handy-Bank. The Handy-Bank concept, first announced in 1971, gathered multiple devices and services — including an automatic Mosler Teller-Matic System 4000 machine operated by credit card, a currency and coin changer, a postage stamp dispenser, a night depository and security measures including a closed-circuit television system and a dedicated telephone line to Huntington’s security office — into a single, unattended “microbranch.”11 The Teller-Matic could handle 14 basic banking transactions, including withdrawals and deposits, and it could issue small loans — a true competitive advantage for Huntington. The first-of-its-kind facility was profiled in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and United States Investor, among other publications.

Although the Handy-Bank required about 10 percent of the cost of a normal branch and zero personnel, Huntington President Edward Huwaldt said the concept would “not eliminate the people-to-people service at our bank. It will not affect any of our staff operations .… As a matter of fact, we envision the full-service branch operation as the central bank for an area and the Handy-Banks as being satellites to that central bank.”12

This model proved to be far ahead of its time, a precursor to the widespread, decentralized network of ATMs most major banks would soon employ.

Besides introducing these satellite banks, Huntington extended its reach throughout the early 1970s chiefly through holding company acquisitions. From 1967 to 1974, Huntington Bancshares acquired several local community banks throughout Ohio, including ones in Washington Court House, Chillicothe, Ashland, Bowling Green, Springfield, Toledo, Lima, Woodville, Kent, Wadsworth and Kenton.13

Other bank holding companies had sprung up throughout the Midwest during this period. In 1970, Cleveland-based Union Commerce Bank, born as Union Bank of Commerce on May 16, 1938, formed a parent holding company — the Union Commerce Corp. In 1974, Union Commerce Corp. had $1.6 billion in assets, making it one of Ohio’s five largest banks.14

1970s Handy Bank ATM 3
Copy of 1970 ATM 2

Above Images: Debut of the Handy-Bank ATM at Huntington.

1964 Union Commerce Bank branches
Copy of 1938 Union Commerce bank building_https---archives.historyfactory.com-contentengine-detail.cfm-cid=141238

Left Image: This Union Commerce branch, with a four-window drive-in at Euclid Avenue and East 276th Street in Cleveland, opened in 1964.

Right Image: Headquarters of the Union Commerce Bank in Cleveland.

The Oil Shock

In Michigan, where bank holding companies were prohibited until 1971, smaller regional banks were the norm during the late 1960s and early 1970s. West Michigan’s First Michigan Bank reached $100 million in assets in 1973, having doubled in size since 1968. To mark the milestone, bank CEO Bob Den Herder, who had started an earlier tradition of serving cake to associates every time the bank’s assets increased by another million dollars, hosted a dinner for bank staff members and spouses.15 Also in 1973, FMB officers organized the Zeeland Community Foundation “to provide a tax-free method to fund charitable, educational, and civic projects for the greater Zeeland area.”16 Bob Den Herder served as president; former First Michigan Bank leader Adrian VandenBosch sat on the board of trustees. Joining the industry trend, FMB’s holding company, First Michigan Bank Corp., was established the following year.

In eastern Michigan, meanwhile, Fidelity Bank of Michigan was founded in Birmingham in 1971 and that same year the Hamtramck-based Liberty State Bank & Trust appointed Morris “Morrie” Fenkell board chairman. Fenkell had served as an Army medic during World War II and joined his brothers’ wholesale and retail meatpacking business, Fenkell Packing Co., in the postwar years.17 Outside his role at Liberty State Bank, Fenkell ardently supported many Jewish organizations and other charitable causes.

By 1973, the biggest story in Detroit — and in the national economy at large — was the oil crisis. Beginning on Oct. 6, 1973, a coordinated surprise attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria launched the Arab-Israeli War. The conflict began during a vital negotiation between American and British oil companies and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, a cartel of Arab oil leaders with tremendous bargaining power. The United States tried to avoid the conflict. But because its Cold War adversary, Russia, was assisting Egypt and Syria, the United States was ultimately compelled to help arm and support the Israeli troops. When OPEC got wind of this, they declared an embargo, unleashing the “oil weapon,” and effectively shut off the oil tap from the Middle East to the United States from October 1973 until March 1974.

The “oil shock” was felt most keenly at America’s fuel pumps. Gasoline prices skyrocketed and long lines for a rationed supply persisted for months. People had a much harder time driving to work, let alone engaging in leisure activities. A collective national belt-tightening ensued.

The crisis had a major impact on institutions that were lending to domestic oil and gas companies — sometimes known as oil-patch loans. Many suffered losses or failed as a result. For Detroit, the oil crisis was ruinous. As carmakers coped with lower demand, fuel efficiency became a major trend. Detroit’s bigger cars were hopelessly behind the times. Smaller, more efficient imports, especially from Japan, upended Detroit’s leadership of the industry. Auto production dropped 29 percent from 1973 to 1975, prompting many job losses.18 The oil embargo remains a massive inflection point for eastern Michigan’s economic health, and much of the Midwest that was tied to the rise and fall of the American auto industry.

During the 1960s, Huntington made a flurry of acquisitions, and in the early 1970s it pursued no fewer than 20 banks across Ohio as potential Bancshares affiliates, but with little success.

“I believe it will be some time before the legislature acts on contiguous county, statewide or inter-state branching,” Vice President Paul F. Lewis wrote to Bancshares CEO Clair Fultz in August 1973. “Until it acts, the bankers with whom I have talked seem to desire a status quo position .… It would seem we are in a holding pattern on the rest of the state.”19

Fultz spoke to the Washington Court House Kiwanis Club about the energy crisis and its effects on banking in March 1974. But he soon retired as holding company CEO, effective Sept. 30, 1975.20 Fultz left a tremendous legacy of banking and community service, continuing a longtime legacy begun by P.W. Huntington and his descendants: Fultz was president of the Ohio Bankers Association, a board member of Midland Mutual Life Insurance Co., trustee of Green Lawn Cemetery Association, a 25-year board member of Children’s Hospital and chairman of Junior Achievement of Columbus, an organization that Huntington would partner with for decades.

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Left Image: Gas lines stretched for miles as drivers waited to fill their tanks during the oil crisis.

Right Image: Detroit’s Liberty State Bank in the 1970s.

Copy of 1970 campus branch
Copy of 1970 operations 2

Above Images: Campus-based Huntington branches in the 1970s presented a friendlier and more approachable institution with the new brand motto: “We’re big on people at The Huntington.”

Hermann at the Helm

Arthur D. Herrmann succeeded Fultz as the holding company’s CEO. Hermann, who joined Huntington’s trust department in 1951 and moved into commercial banking in the early 1960s, was elected bank CEO in 1972 and became the holding company’s president in 1974. His leadership of both entities was well established when Fultz stepped down in 1975. Joining Herrmann at the helm was Frank Wobst, who became bank president in 1974.

Huntington maintained a cautious position during the 1970s with respect to acquired growth, and wisely avoided oil patch loans. From $1.39 billion in assets in 1973 (more than triple the size since 1966) and a 16-to-1 leverage ratio, the bank’s leverage ratio trended downward to 14-to-1 in 1975.21

But in 1976 the floodgates began to open, with Huntington acquiring numerous banks and launching many new services. Huntington acquired only one bank in 1976 — the Pickerington Bank (established in 1910) — and three more longstanding Ohio institutions in 1977 — Bellefontaine National Bank (est. 1913), Central National Bank of London (est. 1876), and Franklin National Bank (est. 1897). Perhaps more important, the bank formed Huntington Mortgage Co. in 1976, enabling it to expand into mortgage origination; and the Huntington Leasing Co. in 1977. By 1979, Huntington was the largest construction lender in central Ohio and customers were singing its praises.

“To me, The Huntington is like the financial arm of my construction company,” Testa Construction’s Chris Testa said in 1977. “I’ve been dealing with Tom Prendergast over there for years. It’s almost like he’s working for me. Like we’re partners.”22

196x Clair Fultz_https---archives.historyfactory.com-contentengine-detail.cfm-cid=139113
1970s Arthur D Herrmann

Left Image: Huntington President Clair Fultz served on the boards of several partner organizations throughout his career at Huntington.

Right Image: Arthur Herrmann followed Fultz as CEO of Huntington’s holding company.

Building a System

By 1978, Huntington Bancshares comprised 15 banks and that year’s annual report described the brand’s reach:

Today, those original 15 separate banks are an integrated system of affiliate banks. Instead of operating from only 15 offices with a few branch offices scattered throughout their respective communities, our affiliate system of banks now includes 97 offices. … Recently, legislative changes in banking regulations have made still another significant step possible for Huntington Bancshares.23

The new legislation let banks branch into contiguous counties — under the terms, Huntington could legally branch into 57 of the state’s 88 counties. Future legislation lifted the interstate banking restrictions in a phased approach beginning on Oct. 17, 1985, and stretched into 1991 as other states in the union extended reciprocal banking privileges.24 Because of the legislation, all 15 separate banks were restructured into the unified Huntington National Bank, with assets totaling $2.5 billion. The full-service bank system included investment, mortgage and leasing services, along with trusts and personal banking services. It also had a foreign office in Grand Cayman.

The more modestly sized First Michigan Bank celebrated its centennial in 1978. The bank’s family-themed gala celebration included a pancake breakfast, parade, bank tours, old-time games and a huge birthday cake cut by CEO and Chairman Bob Den Herder, President and Chairman Emeritus Adrian VandenBosch and new bank President Randall M. Dekker.25 Also cake cutting was Ed Den Herder’s widow, Marguerite, who also authored First Michigan Bank’s centennial book, Bankers’ Hours.

The following year, First Michigan Bank returned to its roots by acquiring the National Lumberman’s Bank and Trust of Muskegon (FMB founder Jacob Den Herder had worked for many years in western Michigan’s nascent timber industry). Lumberman’s added eight Muskegon region offices to First Michigan’s holding company footprint, and added $162 million in assets.

Although banks like First Michigan and Huntington weathered the second oil shock of the late 1970s and the recession of the early 1980s, other banks were less fortunate. In 1979, Union Commerce incurred serious losses, largely because of its exposure to energy loans (Huntington had limited exposure to energy loans at the time).26 After acquiring the smaller Merchants Bank of Milford Center and First National Bank of Burton in 1980 and the Alexandria Bank Co., and Cubanc Corp. in 1981, Huntington worked to extend into the state’s farther reaches, establishing a presence in the much larger markets of northeast and southwest Ohio — specifically, Dayton, Akron, Cleveland and Cincinnati.27 New CEO Frank Wobst led the charge.

1978 FMB main office

First Michigan Bank’s main office in 1978, during its centennial year.

1979 Huntington Guitar commercial HQ - from Duke U
1980s Wobst

Left Image: Huntington’s first television commercial advertised savings accounts and reinforced our culture of service with the tagline “At Huntington, we’re never satisfied until you are.”

Right Image: Huntington CEO Frank Wobst in the 1980s.

A Natural Leader

Wobst, a Dresden, Germany, native, was a born leader. He’d been president of his high school, Kreuzschule, which was established in the 13th century. Though he hadn’t aimed specifically to be a banker, work was scarce when he came to America in 1957. He landed a serendipitous job at Fidelity Bank in Lynchburg, Virginia. He had an economics degree, but “he didn’t speak English so they put him in a backroom and he learned the rudiments of how banking was structured,” his widow, Joan Wobst, said. “It was really hands-on learning.”28 He quickly proved himself, moving up Fidelity’s leadership ranks.

Aside from his education in banking, Wobst was intensely interested in development. He drove around Lynchburg to observe new construction, gaining a direct understanding of where his bank customers were expanding. Although he’d had a stellar career at Fidelity, Wobst was passed over for a promotion to the C-suite, so he went to a headhunter. Huntington was looking for a new president, and after interviewing Wobst they were impressed with his experience, skill set and leadership qualities. They brought him on as president in 1974. By 1981, Wobst had been elected CEO, and would preside over an era of unprecedented expansion and growth at his new institution. His son Franck recalled:

I had a definite sense that he wanted the Huntington to be more than just a central Ohio bank, that he wanted it to be regional, throughout the Midwest. He was very interested in growing the bank and I think that was around the time that the Huntington Center was constructed. I think that was symbolic and very important to him .… He really wanted the Huntington Center to be the premier office space in certainly Columbus if not all of Ohio.29

In Columbus, construction on the new Huntington Center began on Jan. 5, 1983, on the same site as the old Building 17.30 Outside Franklin County, an important half-measure toward expansion into northeast and southwest Ohio meant opening loan offices in Akron and Cincinnati. The next major step was Huntington’s merger with Dover, Ohio’s Reeves Banking and Trust (est. 1903), which had $220 million in assets. The deal brought Huntington deeper into northeast Ohio. But this was a far cry from tapping the Cleveland and Cincinnati markets:

Both cities were Ohio’s two largest metropolitan areas in terms of total population and represented key locations of the state’s economic activity. Cleveland, for example, was home of seventy-two companies with annual sales of $100 million plus, giving it a higher concentration of corporate headquarters than Los Angeles, Boston or Atlanta. Additionally, the city was the country’s tenth largest consumer market, opening large opportunities for The Huntington, which already was known as a leader in new approaches to consumer lending.31

Entering Cleveland

For Wobst and Huntington, the most attractive target in Cleveland was the Union Commerce Corp. holding company. This prize included the Union Commerce bank itself with $1.67 billion in assets; some 43 acquired offices throughout Cuyahoga and Lake counties; the striking Union Commerce Building; and, crucially, the holding company affiliate Southern Ohio Bank, a $243 million asset bank based in Cincinnati.

In December 1981, around the same time as ground broke on the new Huntington Center, the Columbus-based institution made an unsolicited $68 million bid for Union Commerce. This was an aggressive, lowball offer in many respects — shareholder equity of Union Commerce by the end of 1981 was about $93 million against $1.67 billion in assets.32 The offer was rejected. In February 1982, Union Commerce Chairman and CEO Lyman H. Treadway issued a statement to shareholders communicating the “unsatisfactory” nature of Huntington’s proposal. “Union Commerce, simply put, is worth more than the Huntington offer,” he wrote.33 While Huntington recalibrated, it had privately bought about 5 percent of Union Commerce common stock and publicly filed to buy another 17 percent.

As Huntington continued to buy stock, a new competitor emerged. Cincinnati’s United Midwest Bancshares tried to acquire Union Commerce’s subsidiary, Southern Ohio Bank, but the Federal Reserve Board rejected the bid in October 1982 because the holding company planned to use too much debt — $15 million of the $30 million purchase price would have been borrowed money — to complete the acquisition, putting it in a position that, according the Fed, “does not allow the applicant sufficient financial flexibility to serve as a source of strength to the bank.”34 Huntington owned about a third of Union Commerce voting stock by this time, and wrote to Union Commerce’s shareholders encouraging the merger with Huntington rather than Central Bancorp.

Nevertheless, Union Commerce management combined forces with Central Bancorp. After an extended bidding war, Huntington increased its share of stock to 55.4 percent and “the remaining voting shares were acquired in March 1983 by means of a stock exchange whereby 382,192 shares of $2.25 cumulative voting preferred stock and 1,172,161 common shares were issued. In all, The Huntington spent $96 million on the transaction, $50.2 million of which was paid in cash to acquire the controlling interest in Union Commerce at the end of 1982.”35 In 1983, Union Commerce was renamed The Huntington National Bank of Northeast Ohio. Thus ended the hostile takeover — the first in banking history — of Union Commerce. As a result, Huntington became a truly statewide banking establishment, Ohio’s fourth largest, with 176 offices.

Copy of 1980 Bankers
Copy of 1980 tellers

Left Image: Longtime colleague Bill Doughty received recognition for his service in 1976, and 40 years later, in 2016, Doughty celebrated his 56th year at Huntington.

Right Image: In the 1980s, Huntington bank tellers cheer for the new brand motto, “We’re never satisfied until you are.”

Relationship Banking

With new growth at hand and the takeover past, Huntington returned to what it did best — customer service. In 1984, Zuheir Sofia was named president of the Huntington holding company and that June, he introduced relationship banking to better serve retail and midsize-business customers.

The 1984 annual report described the service innovation: “On the corporate level, a senior commercial officer is teamed with an account officer to provide comprehensive, personalized service to each account. This team approach provides career development opportunities for newer officers and service continuity to corporate customers for all their banking needs. The same approach is used with individual customers.”36

Money market accounts were also introduced that year and the bank’s auto loan business grew as competitors retrenched. Total assets had grown to $5.6 billion and Huntington’s capital position was as strong as ever, as “total capital represented 7.38 percent of total assets on Dec. 31, 1984, and placed The Huntington well above new minimum capital requirements being proposed by banking regulatory agencies.”37 Perhaps most exciting, in 1984 the new, 37-story Huntington Center opened across the street from the Ohio Statehouse. The building, designed by Bruce Graham, was and is a unique architectural landmark that symbolized and solidified Huntington’s commitment to its community and to economic growth throughout the Midwest.

Having a relatively young German man occupying the executive floor as chief underscored the bank’s growing sense of worldliness. Joining Wobst in the executive suite was Ralph Frasier, Huntington’s general counsel since 1976 and the first African-American officer appointed at the bank;38 and Zuheir Sofia, Huntington’s Lebanese-born chief operating officer. The prominence of foreign-born, minority and female leaders at Huntington in the late 1970s and early 1980s signaled the bank’s growing commitment to finding the best person for the job regardless of superficial prejudices that had long characterized the American workforce. A new era of banking — and bankers — had begun.

Copy of 1984 Huntington Center Construction4-t
1983 topping-out beam Huntington Center

Above Images: CEO Frank Wobst looks on as the final beam for the highest point of Huntington Center is raised into place in 1984.

Ralph Frasier - 1981 annual report
1981 Sofia, A. Zuheir

Left Image: Ralph Frasier was Huntington’s first African-American officer.

Right Image: Lebanese-born Zuheir Sofia became Huntington’s COO in 1986.

Act II

Roots and Branches

Huntington had moved into a new home but hadn’t forgotten its roots. Carved above a doorway in the Huntington Center’s main banking lobby were the words of P.W. Huntington: “In Prosperity Be Prudent; In Adversity Be Patient.”

The underlying and perhaps unspoken feature of this latter concept — patience amid adversity — can be read as a bold willingness to seek opportunity and gain where others see distress. In the 1980s and early 1990s, banks and thrifts endured a rocky period marked by institutional failures and government regulation. Huntington, meanwhile, continued to assert the twin pillars of its character through the ensuing ups and downs. Despite a seemingly aggressive posture during the hostile takeover of Union Commerce, Huntington retained its fiscal prudence with a relatively conservative capital position. In 1981, for instance, Huntington’s leverage ratio of capital accounts to total assets was 17-to-1. In 1984, after the acquisition of Union Commerce when assets totaled more than $5.57 billion, the ratio still sat around 17.5-to-1.39 Meanwhile, some of the growing, multinational banks were becoming much more highly leveraged, often with disastrous results.

In 1982, Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Co. failed. A pillar of the Midwest banking establishment, Continental Illinois was saved when the Fed stepped in with an unprecedented multibillion-dollar rescue package and ultimately took an 80 percent stake in the bank to save it and its creditors and depositors from failure.40 In ensuing congressional hearings, U.S. Rep. Stewart McKinney, R-Conn., coined a phrase that would reverberate through the coming decades. “Mr. Chairman, let us not bandy words,” he said. “We have a new kind of bank. It is called too big to fail. TBTF, and it is a wonderful bank.”41

Although the government bailed out Continental Illinois, it had earlier issued a $1.2 billion loan program to aid struggling automaker Chrysler — a signal of Detroit’s troubles. Again, Huntington during this period took a very different course than a bank like Continental. Rather than chasing fads and the speculative, often beguiling instruments of the financial industry, Huntington grew organically and prudently, while occasionally taking advantage of out-of-favor markets akin to those it understood.

Following on the legislation passed in 1978 that allowed banks to branch into neighboring counties, Ohio joined many other states in passing a reciprocal interstate banking law. Initially, Ohio’s law, which took effect Oct. 17, 1985, was just with Kentucky. But on Jan. 1, 1986, this reciprocity was extended to Indiana and Michigan; later that year the agreement was extended to Pennsylvania and New Jersey.42

The phased approval of interstate banking yielded a flurry of acquisitions for Huntington, which bought holding companies in Kentucky, Indiana, and Michigan throughout 1986. The following year Huntington added the Ohio-based Citizens State Bancorp and United Midwest Bancorp in Michigan, and opened its first trust office in Florida. Over the following two years, Huntington opened its first Pittsburgh office, an auto loan operation, and entered West Virginia, purchasing the Morgantown-based First Bank Securities Inc.

Reciprocity meant that major banks could enter Ohio’s market, too. New York’s Chase Manhattan Corp, for instance, acquired several beleaguered S&Ls in Ohio beginning in 1985, giving the nation’s third-largest bank a Buckeye State presence.43 Despite the increased competition, Huntington exited the 1980s in a strong position, with a solid foothold throughout Ohio and several neighboring states and an ever-growing portfolio of mortgage underwriting and auto financing. With 258 offices and total assets at $11.8 billion by 1990, Huntington was among the nation’s top 50 banks for the first time in the institution’s history.

Also contributing to Huntington’s growth had been an entry in to the thrift market. During the 1980s, thrift institutions, predominantly savings and loans, were in deep trouble. Regulation had spurred institutions like S&Ls to chase higher yields to stay competitive. In 1980, 85 percent of S&Ls were losing money and the other 15 percent were in danger of failing. By 1984, the year of the first explicitly “too big to fail” bailout, an S&L crisis had arrived nationwide. S&L deregulation ensued; thrifts were allowed to issue non-mortgage loans and offer other retail and investment services found at banks.44

Trying New Technology

Huntington’s 125th year of operation in 1991 introduced many new and technology-aided services. The bank’s 1990s strategy was summed up in its 1993 annual report: “To be successful in the future, banking companies must have low cost distribution networks that deliver a broader range of financial services to the consumer than ever before.”45

The bank revamped its services and delivery methods, changing how its customers thought of banking. Huntington was an early adopter of digital check imaging, which allowed for the electronic processing and display of checks on computer or video screens. By 1991, Huntington had become the first bank to process all of its checks this way. Digital imaging allowed for more efficient clearing operations at Huntington and between the growing family of acquired banks. As the older Burroughs system was replaced by IBM computers, Huntington partnered with AT&T to launch a 24-hour touch-tone phone banking service aimed at “people looking for convenience — for instance, those in two-income households who are extremely busy and still want the personal factor in doing their banking,” Huntington’s Dorothy Brownley said.46

The phone banking system, known as Huntington Direct, let the bank expand its footprint virtually, especially for services like Personal Credit Lines. In November 1992, 90 percent of credit card applications were made through Huntington Direct.

Two years later, Huntington incorporated digital check imaging into its Huntington Access and Personal Touch video banking ATMs, offering the full Huntington services suite with touch-screen and two-way interactive video capabilities.

“The Huntington has always been on the cutting edge of technology, and it is truly one of the most innovative and progressive financial institutions,” said George Schneider, senior product manager at AT&T Global Information Solutions, which partnered with Huntington on Personal Touch.47

Huntington in 1995 became a very early Internet adopter. By using virtual bank manager software, Huntington could extend a range of services and information to the World Wide Web. Huntington was one of the first banks to offer online bill pay through the Huntington Web Bank, and developed a “smart card” that could carry digital cash along with banking and health insurance information. Although it was ahead of its time on many of these delivery channels, Huntington was also an innovator in banking technology that would increasingly define financial services.

Although high technology became a new growth and leadership area for Huntington, it also strengthened the community-focused, person-to-person banking methods that had always been the core of the lender’s approach. Low-income, community development loan programs complemented the bank’s new Community Centered Banking division, introduced in 1991, which partnered with area churches to provide banking services and financial education workshops to underserved and underprivileged communities.

Copy of 1980 PhoneBank1

Huntington’s 24-hour Pay-by-Phone hotline evolved into other interactive banking technologies.

1994 Video Banking Machine 1

Above Images: Huntington’s Pay-by-Phone service in the 1980s evolved into an automated video-teller offering in the 1990s.

1996 Huntington website - Dec - internet archive screenshot

Above Images: Huntington’s pioneering Web Bank website in 1996.

A New Decade of Growth

As Huntington expanded through digital and in­-person delivery channels, it continued an aggressive acquisition strategy throughout the 1990s. In 1993 Huntington acquired Charter Oak Financial Corp., largely for its Cincinnati presence. The following year, the Riegle­-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act was passed, removing the few remaining restrictions on interstate banking and opening the door for the bank’s further expansion in places such as West Virginia, Michigan and Florida.

In West Virginia, Huntington seized the opportunity to move boldly into that state. By acquiring Community Bank & Trust Corp. of Fairmont in 1993, Huntington picked up the legacy institution of Elkins National Bank — established in 1892 by H.G. Davis and his son-­in-­law Stephen B. Elkins — that was by now part of CB&T.

The following year, Huntington purchased another West Virginia holding company that included the assets of Charleston institutions like Chemical Bank & Trust. This family bank was co-­founded in 1959 by coal miner Mike Paterno, who lived to age 100 and whose four nephews held the first four account numbers at Chemical Bank. Andy Paterno was account holder No. 3, and would later serve as Huntington National Bank’s regional president for West Virginia.48

National Bank of Commerce of Charleston acquired Chemical Bank in 1987, and after Huntington purchased the holding company the Columbus-­based institution became the fourth-­largest banking company in West Virginia, with assets of more than $2.2 billion in the state.

An equally big year for Huntington in Indiana was 1993. The bank acquired the Lafayette-­based First Bancorp Indiana on Nov. 29 and, notably, Railroadmen’s Federal Savings and Loan a month later. In June 1993, when the acquisition was announced, Railroadmen’s posted earnings of $4.15 million for the year’s first half, a period in which the lender closed $102 million in mortgage loans, “representing financing for over 1,300 homes in central Indiana.”49 The acquisitions added more longstanding family banks to Huntington’s roster and increased the bank’s Indiana presence to more than $1.3 billion in assets and 27 banking offices.

For the next few years, Huntington focused on expanding in Florida. After acquiring three small private banks in 1995, Huntington acquired Peoples Bank of Lakeland in 1996 and the Florida­-based Citi­-Bancshares in 1997.

Huntington’s assets had grown to $25 billion. And on Aug. 5, 1997, Huntington’s stock was added to the Standard & Poor’s 500 index — a major milestone and honor for any American company. As Huntington prepared to make its biggest acquisition to date, it appeared that nothing could stop the bank’s successful expansion into new regions. This assumption was about to be powerfully tested.

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Left Image: Elkins National Bank, founded in 1892 in West Virginia, became part of Huntington in 1993.

Right Image: Andy Paterno, Huntington’s West Virginia regional president, was account holder No. 3 at Chemical Bank & Trust, an institution co-founded in 1959 by his uncle Mike Paterno.

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People’s Bank of Lakeland, acquired by Huntington in 1995.

The FMB Merger

By 1997, First Michigan Bank had become a major player within its home state. With more than $3.6 billion in assets and about 90 branches, First Michigan Bank had pursued a more modest acquisition strategy in the preceding years, focused on Michigan rather than the larger Midwestern United States. Like its West Virginia counterparts CB&T and Commerce Banc Corp, First Michigan had also acquired many smaller multigenerational family banks in its area. One of these was Reed City State Bank, acquired by First Michigan in 1988.

Reed City State Bank traces its founding to farmer William M. Porteous, whose conservative management helped his bank survive the Great Depression while neighboring banks failed. This left the LeRoy­based institution as the only game in town. To help the neighboring communities, William would travel to Reed City every Saturday, visiting the local grain elevator — a center of agricultural life — to take deposits and handle other banking affairs, before driving 20 miles back to LeRoy. This was the age of John Dillinger and other infamous bank robbers, so when state police heard Porteous was driving around with so much cash, they began sending two troopers to escort him to and from Reed City; they sat on either side of Porteous, submachine guns in their laps. William’s son, William L. Porteous Jr., joined his father’s business in 1948 after serving in World War II, and later became Reed City State Bank’s president.50 His son David Porteous sat on the bank’s board of directors when he came of age. As banking began to consolidate, David Porteous remembers:

(My father) made a list of those (larger banks) that he felt would serve the community and the employees and the shareholders the best. And he and I got in the car and we went and we visited all these banks…. One of the banks that we narrowed it down to was a bank called First Michigan Bank…. After their due diligence and our due diligence, we were acquired by them and we were part of the FMB family for 10 years…. The thing that seemed so magical about that merger was that the culture seemed very similar. Really good people working in the banks. People who were very committed to their communities. The two banks — FMB and the Reed City State Bank — had what I would call a pretty conservative approach to operating the bank. Not taking outside risk…. Everything just seemed to work out really well. And then one day we picked up the newspaper and we saw that FMB announced that they were merging and selling to Huntington Bank.51

Unlike the previous decade’s Union Commerce takeover, First Michigan Bank welcomed the takeover by a larger institution, which in this case was a stock swap valued at $908 million.52 Then­President Jan Nienhuis, who began his banking career at First Michigan in 1970, said on his retirement in 1999, “The transfer from FMB to Huntington has provided great opportunities for many employees and customers, and I am very proud of the accomplishments of Huntington’s west Michigan team.”53

Although Nienhuis’ perspective was upbeat, there were certainly many challenges with the merger. One Huntington board member described the First Michigan Bank merger as “a catastrophic acquisition. It was poorly integrated, devolved into terrible customer service. The entire leadership team (of FMB) … all left right away. So you ended up holding a handful of sand. I mean it could not have been handled more poorly.”54

The merger led to restructuring and layoffs of 1,000 employees. Most of the local bank boards were shut down, removing decision­-making from local organizations in favor of a more centralized “command and control” approach based in Columbus. Aside from the cultural shift, the technological conversion from First Michigan’s system to Huntington’s was riddled with problems, which angered customers. In one particularly telling incident, Huntington participated in a Holland parade and courted the crowd by tossing candy into the parade stands. The audience threw the candy back.55

Undaunted, Huntington in June 1998 acquired 60 former Barnett Bank branches in Florida from NationsBank Corp. Florida had long been a rapidly growing market, with many snowbirds from the Midwest moving or spending the winters there in their retirement years. In 1990, the bank had acquired First Home Federal Savings and Loan Association in Sebring, Florida, paving the way for expansion there in the coming decade.

In February 2000, Huntington purchased Michigan’s Traverse City­-based Empire Banc Corp. for $138 million in stock.56 By then, the Gramm­-Leach-­Bliley Act of 1999 had repealed part of the Glass­-Steagall Act, allowing bank holding companies to serve as umbrella entities and encompass the activities of commercial banks, investment banks, securities companies and insurance companies. Huntington soon after added the Orlando, Florida-­based J. Rolfe Davis Insurance Co. and its $15 million in annual revenue. By the end of 2000, Huntington had nearly 150 offices in the Sunshine State.

Although these acquisitions went more smoothly than the First Michigan acquisition, several senior leaders retired and Huntington’s earnings and stock were impacted. Despite Huntington’s increasing size — $28.6 billion in overall assets, 522 banking offices across Ohio, Michigan, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida, and a regional network of nearly 1,500 ATMs — the institution had lost something. As one west Michigan Huntington banker said, “We went from mocking big banks to being one.”57

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Above Images: From the outside, the old Zeeland State Bank headquarters looked much the same after the Huntington acquisition, aside from the new sign out front. Internally, considerable work was underway to rebuild Huntington’s culture in western Michigan.

Growth and Transition

After Huntington posted lower­-than-­expected earnings in the fourth quarter of 2000, the bank began a series of major management transitions in early 2001, starting with the naming of a new chief executive. “I’m getting older,” said outgoing CEO Frank Wobst, who would remain at Huntington as board chairman. “It was just time to clarify the situation.”58

Effective Feb. 15, Thomas Hoaglin was tapped to succeed Frank Wobst as Huntington CEO, and serve as the bank’s new president. Before a brief stint as vice chairman of AmSouth Bancorp, Hoaglin had spent more than 25 years at the Columbus­-based Bank One, so he knew the Midwest well. Wobst acknowledged this, saying, “His background and knowledge of the city and the company’s markets make him uniquely qualified (for the leadership role at Huntington).”59

But Hoaglin had his work cut out for him, especially in West Michigan. It was no secret; the First Michigan Bank acquisition in 1997 had not gone as well as expected. He recalled:

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Left Image: Thomas Hoaglin replaced Frank Wobst as Huntington CEO in 2001.

Right Image: Jim Dunlap joined Huntington in 1979 and served as regional vice president in several parts of the country, leading a major turnaround effort in West Michigan.

It was a great opportunity for me to go to the market, to listen to what people were saying inside and outside of the company. That’s when I met David Porteous. And Dave cared deeply about that marketplace and how the bank was going to go. And so I started talking with him about my orientation toward a decentralized approach and why I thought it was important to move decision­ making closer to customers.60

Restructuring was necessary. Huntington closed 34 Midwestern branches and cut its dividend by 20 percent. Hoaglin next moved to divest Huntington’s Florida operations, which were not making a large return on investment largely because of the loan business there. Huntington had three banks interested in acquiring their Florida holdings; all were supposed to submit bids by early September.

Specifically, by Sept. 10, 2001.

When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks arrived the next morning, and the Twin Towers came down in New York, financial markets reeled. Two bidders for the Florida franchise backed out, but Sun Trust maintained its bid and bought the operation from Huntington. The deal epitomized Huntington’s courageous willingness to acknowledge errors and fix them. Florida expansion was out of step with the bank’s character, and the deal freed Huntington to focus fully on its Midwest home region.

Also because of this divestiture, Hoaglin could tap talent in Florida and redeploy it where it was needed most.

Enter James E. Dunlap.

Hoaglin said:

The guy who was running Florida for Huntington, Jim Dunlap, was still a senior executive at Huntington, a very strong leader in local communities. So I thought that he would be ideal if I could convince him to move to Grand Rapids as somebody who would carry a new flag for Huntington, a new commitment to the community, a new commitment to local decision­-making. And so Jim agreed to move there, and from that point forward the situation of Huntington in West Michigan turned around.61

Connecting with Community

Dunlap joined Huntington in 1979 and served as regional president of the bank’s northwest Ohio region from 1992 to 1996 before doing the same in Florida. So he understood the importance of local leadership. He was the perfect choice to lead Hoaglin’s reimagining of Huntington as a “local bank with national resources.” The goal was to rebuild the Huntington culture in western Michigan and regain the local community’s trust and acceptance.

Dunlap’s leadership team mounted a major marketing push built around authenticity. Localized TV commercials featured Huntington employees instead of professional actors. The campaign known as Connecting with Community featured local nonprofit organizations and other charitable causes that Huntington supported in West Michigan.62

Said Dunlap on the inaugural TV spot, “At Huntington, we believe in Connecting with Community, like the many causes and organizations that our Huntington colleagues donate their time and resources to: everything from community festivals and events to the many nonprofit organizations that bring so many critical services to our communities; and our schools, churches, and youth organizations.” 63

Connecting with Community TV spots spread to all other Huntington regions and heralded the company’s commitment to local culture.

The new leadership also committed to West Michigan financially by connecting with government, hospitals and other community groups; many Huntington employees participated on the boards of the these organizations. Huntington worked to make the most of a fresh start.

Huntington began partnering with professional, semiprofessional and collegiate sports stadiums and arenas, purchasing naming rights and major sponsorships with these organizations. Beginning in 2001, Huntington extended its 32-­year partnership with Ohio State University, making a major gift to aid the stadium’s renovations. The contribution was honored throughout the suite­-level social area, now named The Huntington Club. In 2006, the bank purchased naming rights and committed to building a new stadium for the baseball stadium of Minor League Baseball’s Columbus Clippers — to be named Huntington Park.

On Feb. 13, 2002, as part of this push for local authenticity, Hoaglin spoke to more than 200 people at the Columbus Metropolitan Club. He said the bank needed to improve diversity and inclusion.

“To me it’s imperative that our bank look and feel like the people in the communities we serve,” he said.

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Above Images: Connecting with Community, an initiative sponsored by Huntington to celebrate nonprofit partnerships, became a major force in strengthening Huntington’s reputation and the capabilities of many local service organizations.

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Huntington’s stadium and arena sponsorships in Central Ohio spurred other Huntington markets to follow suit. The bank made similar contributions at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts, and Toledo’s minor-league hockey arena.64

New Acquisitions

As Huntington executed its plans, the bank’s culture began changing and its financial performance continued to improve. By 2003, earnings were back up to $1.61 per share, a 21 percent increase from 2002, and the board announced a 9.4 percent increase in its stock dividend.65

Huntington acquired Unizan Bank and Unizan Financial Services in 2006 to expand its retail operations into Canton and increase its market share in Dayton and Columbus. The deal would add 42 more branches to Huntington’s Ohio operations. Unizan’s roots predated Huntington’s; the lender originated as the Canton National Bank in 1854, which would make it one of the most established banks in Huntington’s portfolio.

Next, Huntington set its sights on new markets in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Sky Bank (and the Sky Financial Group holding company) was formed in 1998 as a “merger of equals” between Salineville’s $1.8 billion Citizens Bancshares Inc. and Bowling Green’s $2.2 billion Mid Am Inc. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sky Bank acquired banks and holding companies across a similar area as Huntington. But, unlike the Columbus institution, it had a major and growing presence in western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio.

In 1999, Sky acquired First National Bank of Western Pennsylvania; in 2000, it acquired Mahoning National Bank of Youngstown. In 2002, Sky acquired Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Bank and Trust Co., founded in 1964 as the Lincoln Bank and Trust Co. The fall 2006 addition of the early Indianapolis savings and loan Union Federal Bank and its parent Waterfield Mortgage Co., gave Sky Financial an equally strong presence in Indiana, with total assets of $17.7 billion.

On Dec. 20, 2006, just two months after the Union Federal acquisition was approved, Sky Bank and Huntington announced their own merger, worth $3.6 billion. This would increase Huntington’s branches to more than 750 and increase its total assets to more than $52 billion. The agreement gave Huntington a strong presence in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania and an increased market share in Ohio and Indiana.

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Mid Am was acquired by Sky Bank as part of its run of acquisitions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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Left Image: The First National Bank of Pennsylvania was acquired by Sky Bank in 1999.

Right Image: Mahoning National Bank was acquired by Sky Bank in 2000.

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Left Image: Press release announcing merger, 2007.

Right Image: Marty Adams of Sky Financial became Huntington’s president and chief operating officer after the merger.

Storm Clouds Gathering

Unfortunately, Huntington’s merger with Sky was ill­-timed. Just three days before the Sky acquisition was approved, S&P and Moody’s downgraded more than 100 subprime mortgage­-backed securities.66 Three days after the Sky acquisition, a Bear Stearns hedge fund heavily invested in subprime mortgage-­backed securities ceased honoring investors’ calls for redemption.67 When two of these Bear Stearns hedge funds were liquidated in late July that year, billions of dollars’ worth of subprime mortgage assets held by banks around the world declined substantially in value virtually overnight.

Many longstanding institutions experienced liquidity crises that risked their operations and solvency, absent a massive government bailout. The federal government stepped in with a series of initiatives unprecedented in scale, including a fiscal stimulus package and its Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, to support the banking sector.

The auto industry, too, was on life support, which hit the American Midwest especially hard. The crisis rippled through nearly every aspect of the global economy, including almost all loan portfolios. The default rate surged.

For Huntington, the ill­-timed Sky Bank acquisition strained its balance sheet. The bank wrote off about $424 million in subprime mortgage debt at the end of 2007.68 Huntington accepted a $1.4 billion capital injection through the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program in November 2008, (955 other banks during this period accepted similar government funding).69 Soon after, Tom Hoaglin announced his plans to retire. For the first time in the bank’s 142 ­year history, Huntington was without a clear leadership successor. Moreover, the bank was no longer sure it could remain independent. The question loomed: Would Huntington be acquired by another institution? After all this time, would the bank fail?

Faced with its most daunting and complex set of challenges, Huntington got to work.

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Above Images: The subprime mortgage crisis rippled through all aspects of the global economy, triggering the Great Recession.

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Huntington’s optimistic rallying cry pointed to better days ahead for the bank and the American economy.

Act III

Out of the Downturn

Huntington was bent, but not broken. After an exhaustive survey, the board unanimously agreed the bank would remain independent. It would be a struggle to avoid acquisitions during the particularly distressed markets, but Huntington was not about to give up after nearly 150 years of existence. The board set to work. It hired executive search and leadership consulting company Spencer Stuart to conduct a nationwide talent search; David Porteous led the search committee.

Many candidates were interviewed but no clear choice emerged. Toward the end of the process, the person leading the executive search contacted an old colleague — seasoned banker Stephen Steinour — and asked him to throw his hat in the ring.

“I think I was the last person in the door,” Steinour joked. “I did work in advance and learned a bit about the bank. The more I learned, the more I liked: The community nature of it; the history of the Huntington family, going back to the Declaration of Independence. My experience had been that Huntington was always a good competitor. They were hard to move business from. Employees had engendered loyalty. And they were relationship-oriented. Those were all traits I admired.”70

When Steinour met with the Huntington board for the first time, they found someone with more than 30 years of regulatory and leadership experience. They also found a cultural fit; Steinour had the stamina, enthusiasm and expertise to lead a major turnaround effort. Porteous remembered:

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Steve Steinour took the Huntington reins in January 2009.

We knew that we needed someone who would challenge us. It wasn’t very long before the interview switched and he began almost interviewing us. He wanted to know about our commitment and about the things that had happened at Huntington and what we had learned. Did we have the commitment, the energy and the passion to take a long-term approach that was going to require extraordinary amounts of people’s time and energy? This wasn’t going to be a sprint; this was going to be a marathon and, frankly, were we up to it?71

Steinour remembers the interaction similarly. “I was looking to see if they wanted me to just fix it up and sell it,” he said. “That would’ve been more common in that timeframe, but I had no interest in doing that … in removing from the community an important company that has been part of the fabric for nearly 150 years.”72 Luckily, neither did the board.

A Banker’s Challenge

Steinour’s leadership of Huntington commenced in January 2009, aiming to return Huntington to the fiscally conservative practices on which P.W. Huntington founded his bank while taking a 21st-century view toward boldly investing in distressed market opportunities, community partners and customer service. Steinour’s breadth of experience made him extremely well-suited for the economic environment Huntington was facing in 2009. Steinour remembered:

I had started at the FDIC in a regulatory context with failed banks. And then I had the benefit of being at Bank of New England when two really strong regionals came together, but there was a cultural management clash from the outset that led to a failure. So I’d worked on both sides of failed banks, which was helpful to appreciate the regulatory perspectives of 2009 and what to look for. And my background began in credit and risk; I had some familiarity with those elements. I had sufficient exposure to touch many of the areas that we do business in today and did in 2009.73

As the new leadership jumped into the array of challenges facing Huntington, Steinour’s executive team reviewed the bank’s decentralized credit portfolio and wrote off additional losses. Its stock hit a low of $1.02 per share in March 2009. Porteous describes a period of “absolutely gut-wrenching decisions” including layoffs, expense initiatives, and issuing new stock to raise capital while slashing the quarterly dividend, hitting the bank’s shareholders hard.74

During the first half of 2009, Steinour’s leadership team took only one weekend off, and Porteous remembered that during the worst of the transition, “Ten or 12 thousand colleagues were literally working day and night to make sure we got through those tough times, and sacrificed time with their family.”75

During a visit to Huntington’s Reed City branch, a bank teller innocently asked Porteous whether the board would sell the bank. Porteous realized that leadership needed to communicate the vision of the bank’s future to far-flung colleagues. With Steinour’s encouragement, Porteous hit the road:

I hopped in my car and over a six- to nine-month period, I spent several days in every region.… I was able to talk to them about the board and what we did and why we did it and why Steve was selected and why we’ll be here tomorrow and we’ll be here a week from now and we’ll be here a year from now. I can’t predict the future forever, but I could certainly share with them what our vision was at that time. And that really resonated with our colleagues. It also was incredibly helpful to me with feedback I got from people that I could share with Steve and the board.

For a board member to be so proactively involved as boots on the ground was highly unusual. Porteous would replicate this regionwide tour of town-hall-style meetings at least twice more in the coming years. These discussions were integral to the biggest transformation of the post-global financial crisis years: a major cultural shift at Huntington back toward individual accountability and client service. The transition was felt from the executive level on down across all regions, and Huntington reasserted its commitment to Michigan and throughout the Midwest. Porteous’ public role during this period perfectly complemented Steinour’s tactical leadership to improve the bank’s finances.

Although it was reeling from the aftershocks of the Great Recession and its Sky acquisition, Huntington was able to strengthen its commitment to some of America’s most embattled communities. When Huntington quietly acquired Warren Bank that October, Steinour said, “We recognize the important role Macomb County plays in the southeast Michigan economy. Having been in this market for years, we understand it well.”76

Familiar Strategy, New Opportunity

By 2010’s first quarter, Huntington reported unexpectedly impressive profits of $39.7 million. Soon after, it paid back its TARP capital. Steinour began looking for growth opportunities while most banks were still nursing wounds and retrenching. Small-business lending, especially to companies that showed prudent management before and after the downturn, was a big focus.

“Historically, that’s not a loan a lot of banks would make,” Steinour said. “But it’s a smart, prudent business decision to find those (clients), make sure you understand the circumstances, and then get behind them and make some loans,” he adds. “We need to restart the economic engines.”77 And, again, there was no better place than Michigan, especially near Motor City:

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In 2013, Huntington led banks across Ohio in small-business loans.

When Detroit imploded, banks began to back away from customers. Decades-long relationships died. The auto industry was on the brink of collapse and Michigan was in trouble.… The board came to Michigan and talked about investing where no one else sees opportunity. It was unheard of, leaning into an opportunity that no one else saw and everyone else was afraid of. It created an amazing time.78

These were the words of native Detroiter Mike Fezzey, a 30-year radio industry veteran at WJR-AM (760). When Senior Executive Vice President and Regional and Commercial Banking Director Jim Dunlap persuaded Steinour to hold the bank’s 2010 annual retreat in Detroit, Fezzey attended and impressed Huntington’s board by rallying the staff. His contacts throughout the region were equally impressive. Buttressed by a strong team of longstanding bankers, Fezzey, who had little previous engagement in the banking industry, was tapped to lead the bank in East Michigan, and persuaded bank leadership to double down on the distressed region while other banks were abandoning the state. Said Steinour:

We invested in Michigan when everybody was fleeing. I remember the last equity raise we had was more than $400 million. And at an investor conference after that someone asked the question, “Where will we put the capital?” I said, “Michigan.”

You could’ve heard a pin drop. Why would you go to Michigan? It’s 14 percent unemployment. But you look at Michigan today and it’s at the national average [for unemployment], it’s the most successfully recovered state. A pretty smart move.

But for us it was even more fundamental: We were there. We had a role. We had a purpose. And we had confidence in a future that would be brighter coming through the worst of ’08, ’09 and ’10….Things cycle, and having seen that before in different parts of the country, in New England in particular, I had a confidence that we would come back.79

Fezzey’s emotional ties to the region, deep involvement in civic causes and rich relationships with so many of the area’s people, including local business owners, proved to be a precious commodity. “This is not a job for me, it’s a mission,” said Fezzey. “It’s an opportunity to help this state, and I’m working with the smartest people I’ve ever been around.”80

By 2010, Huntington had launched a major rebranding to boost public awareness and perception of Huntington. The blitz centered on Huntington’s new “Welcome” brand positioning. That same year, Huntington became the region’s No. 1 Small Business Administration lender and the fourth-largest in the country. In Michigan, Huntington approved 262 small-business loans worth $52.7 million in 2010, garnering the Michigan Lender of the Year Award for the second straight year.81 The bank reported a staggering $312 million profits that year. And, on the strength of rebounding earnings, it made major investments in affordable housing initiatives and major sponsorships of Pelotonia, a grassroots bike ride that raises funds to support cancer research, the Seeds for Growth community initiative and other charitable endeavors that extended the bank’s reach into the communities it served.

What’s more, these commitments were made at the same time the bank “instituted new and more customer-friendly practices under our Fair Play banking philosophy, such as our 24-Hour Grace® account feature introduced in 2010, which gives customers an additional business day to cover overdrafts to their consumer account without being charged overdraft fees.”82 Many other fees were eliminated and reduced.

Soon after Fezzey joined Huntington in early 2011, the Michigan leadership team announced Huntington’s commitment of $2 billion in loans through the Pure Michigan Business Connect program, and added about 200 new jobs in Michigan compared with the prior year.83 The company invested more than $7.2 million in nonprofit organizations across the Midwest that year, and as a major funding partner for Pelotonia, helped raise more than $2 million for cancer research in 2011.84

In March 2012, Huntington continued its commitment to Michigan, acquiring Dearborn-based Fidelity Bank. Earlier that month, Huntington committed $100 million for affordable housing initiatives throughout Michigan. The bank signed a 10-year agreement with Meijer grocery stores that year, launching an effort to bring in-store branches to all of Meijer’s 100 Michigan locations.85 A similar exclusive agreement was already in place at Giant Eagle grocery stores throughout Ohio, initiated in 2010. The convenience of these in-store branches contributed to an overall increase of both consumer and commercial accounts by at least 6 percent in 2013.

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Left Image: The Huntington leadership team visited New York City’s Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square and presided over the Nasdaq Opening Bell on September 16, 2010.

Right Image: Huntington’s new “welcome” branding and colors for its branch lobbies.

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Left Image: Huntington colleagues participate in Pelotonia 2010.
Right Image: Huntington team members prep at the starting line for Pelotonia 2014.

Reaching 150

In 2014, as some major multinationals continued to exit Michigan, Huntington continued to invest by purchasing 25 Bank of America branches in Flint, Monroe, Muskegon and St. Clair counties. Significant investments and increases in automobile loans and commercial and industrial loans drove the growth of Huntington’s loan portfolio. These efforts helped profits double to $632 million in 2014. In its 148th year, Steinour, through a new long-term strategic plan, set out a clear vision for Huntington to be the “best-performing regional bank in the nation.”86 Retired board member Don Casto said:

Steve has done a very good job of focusing the strategic direction as being the bank of the Midwest and continuing to grow within our footprint and at the edges of our footprint rather than strategic leaps to different geographies.… We went through a period of eight or 10 years where between leadership changes, regulatory investigations, and financial crises, at board meetings we never talked about the business of banking; we talked about how to get out of a crisis situation. So the last three or four years or five years have really been exciting. We’ve talked about banking, about growth, about customers, about service, about all the kinds of things that we ought to be talking about. So it’s fun being in the banking business again.87

Today, Huntington, which has more than $70 billion in total assets, is unified among colleagues and respected in communities. The bank is among America’s most trusted U.S. lenders, rated in the top 10 by customers and noncustomers alike. Much of this trust derives from the bank’s commitment to supporting, rejuvenating and investing in affordable housing, financial education and communities’ critical needs. Huntington helps people, and David Porteous sees this as a continuum through the bank’s past, present and future:

I believe that even though the world is changing very rapidly, there are some sort of basic tenets, which are hard work, service to your community, taking care of your customers that regardless of how the world changes those things are still important. The way in which you do them may change a bit but caring about your customers, caring about your colleagues, caring about the communities that you serve, that does not change. And I believe that the Huntington family, when they started the bank, that was first and foremost in their mind, and here as we approach the sesquicentennial that continues to be first and foremost in our minds, too.88

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Huntington celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2016, a tremendous feat for any family business.

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Above Images: For today’s colleagues, technology has revolutionized the banking industry, but Huntington’s character is still based on personal attention and the human touch.