Edward E. Crutchfield, a banker who through deal-making transformed a small bank in North Carolina into one of the largest banks in the country, earning him the nickname “Fast Eddie” and establishing Charlotte as a national financial center. He died on January 2. At his home in Vero Beach, Florida. He was 82 years old.
His death was confirmed by his son, Elliot Crutchfield, who said that his father had dementia.
When Mr. Crutchfield graduated from business school in 1965, he took a job as a credit analyst at First Union Bank in Charlotte, NC. It was the lowest paying job he was offered, but he thought he could advance faster at a smaller bank. He sensed an opportunity, he told his family and colleagues, at the bank and in the field.
Both guesses were successful. At the age of 32, just seven years after joining First Union, he became its president and became the youngest person in the country to hold that position at a major bank. His ambitions broadened with the Supreme Court decision legalizing interstate banking in 1985. This decision gave Mr. Crutchfield, who was then his bank’s president and chief executive, the authority to take over rival banks and failing savers, turning First Union into a super-regional bank with thousands of branches throughout the Southeast. .
“I just felt that the Sun Belt that turned out would be a good bet,” he told The New York Times shortly before beginning his purchase in 1983. “I think we’re rubbing the rabbit’s foot in the right way.”
By the time Mr. Crutchfield retired in 2000, First Union had acquired more than 90 banking and lending companies and had become the nation’s sixth-largest bank by assets. In 2001, First Union merged with Wachovia, taking the name of the other bank. Wells Fargo purchased Wachovia in 2008 during the recession that reshaped the financial industry.
Mr Crutchfield’s mark lives on in the large role Charlotte still plays in the banking industry. Wells Fargo has 27,000 employees, more than those working at its San Francisco headquarters.
“Ed just had a vision that he thought we could be one of the best and biggest banks in America, and that’s what he grew into,” said Austin Adams, who was First Union’s chief information officer for 17 years.
Edward Elliot Crutchfield Jr. was born on July 14, 1941, in Dearborn, Michigan, and was raised in Albemarle, NC, a rural town about 40 miles from Charlotte. His father worked for the FBI before becoming a lawyer and county judge. His mother, Katherine (Six) Crutchfield, was a high-school teacher.
He attended Davidson College 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, director of corporate communications for First Union. In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Sally Davis, both children from his first marriage; a stepdaughter, Elizabeth Howes; his wife; and five grandchildren.
At First Union, he soon established himself as an enthusiastic figure. Shortly after joining the bank, he established its municipal bond department. In 1968, at the age of 26, he was asked to fix 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 I had to be there to welcome the midnight shift and the 8 o’clock shift,” he told The Times.
As a manager he had a reputation as a non-delegate, a style he had to adjust to as the bank grew. But when he took over a new bank, the first thing he did was take over the bank’s investment portfolio. He was also quick to rebrand new acquisitions, creating what Mr. Adams called “the fastest integration model in the country.”
Mr. Adams said, “It took no more than 11 months from the time we announced the transaction until we transitioned all the systems, signs, products, branches, everything. Was changed.”
According to his son, Mr. Crutchfield was “a quintessential Southerner” who loved hunting, fly-fishing and living far from Wall Street. The young Mr. Crutchfield said, “He enjoyed our underdog status, and got as much pleasure from seeing Charlotte outwit its rivals as he did from seeing First Union overtake other banks.”
When his eyes were on the target, he did not like losing. Of convincing Malcolm McDonald to sell Signet Banking Corporation to First Union for $3.25 billion in 1997, Mr. Crutchfield quipped, “I kept piling billion-dollar bills on the table until Mack said yes “
There were stumbling blocks. 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 banking merger in US history – and then acquired 20 of CoreStates’ two million customers in an effort to direct Percentage lost. They are moving away from human tellers and towards phone and internet services. One of Mr. Crutchfield’s last purchases, home-equity lender Money Store, turned into a cash sinkhole and was soon closed down by his successor.
First Union employee Ken Gephart, who worked for many years as Mr. Crutchfield’s speechwriter, said his boss once spoke with his father, who was also a dedicated fisherman, about his bank’s acquisition process. The conversation that took place was mentioned.
“His father said, ‘Son, I hope you’re not catching him faster than he can catch you,'” Mr. Gephart said. “Ed knew that First Union needed to expand rapidly to survive in interstate banking. But privately, he always said that his greatest fear was that First Union would grow too big and lose its kind of community-minded roots.