Reaching for a leader with business and political ties, SunTrust Bank has tapped Greater Baltimore Committee President Donald P. Hutchinson to head its Maryland division, the fifth-largest bank in the state with $5.3 billion in deposits.
The former Baltimore County executive and veteran of state politics will take over as president and chief executive officer Nov. 1. He will succeed J. Scott Wilfong, who left to take the top job at SunTrust's Atlanta operation.
"One of my big challenges ... was my commitment that we would have somebody who would be a high-profile individual who would be very well known to the community in leading the growth of the bank," Wilfong said of the search for his replacement. Hutchinson, 56, will take over as SunTrust embarks on an effort to expand its Maryland operation through acquisitions and new branches. The bank has 800 employees and 70 branches in Baltimore and surrounding counties.
Hutchinson, who has no banking experience, will be charged with helping the bank raise its profile and strengthen its name in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.
"We plan on expanding rapidly in Baltimore and the surrounding counties," Wilfong said.
The GBC, a regional business advocacy group made up of leaders from top corporations, nonprofit groups and civic institutions, praised the bank for choosing someone with ties to the community rather than an outsider.
"I think the achievements he's had at the Greater Baltimore Committee have also allowed him to have an enormous network of people in the region, which will be good for the bank," said Anthony W. Deering, chairman and chief executive of Rouse Co. and vice chairman of the GBC.
Banking analysts agree, saying the bank has plenty of seasoned managers to watch day-to-day operations. Hutchinson's background will help put a local face on a bank that is "not indigenous" to the region, analysts said.
"Social contacts [are] one of those intangibles that you can't measure," said Jeff Davis, a banking analyst with FTN Securities in Nashville, Tenn.
The Hutchinson family has roots in Maryland business and politics, beginning with family patriarch Preston A. Hutchinson, an Essex steel worker who used his tavern as a base for grass-roots politics. Donald Hutchinson and his brother, David, caught the bug early on.
David Hutchinson, an aide to Theodore G. Venetoulis in the mid-1970s when Venetoulis was Baltimore County executive, was known as an old-fashioned deal-maker before dropping out of public life after a religious conversion and a string of controversies.
Donald Hutchinson jumped into state politics in 1974 when he successfully challenged James A. Pine, a veteran Baltimore County Democratic boss, for his Senate seat. Four years later, the 32-year-old took on four powerful Democratic rivals for the nomination for Baltimore County executive. He went on to win two terms.
After leaving office in 1986, Hutchinson became president of Maryland Economic Growth Associates Inc., which later merged with the Maryland Chamber of Commerce to become the Maryland Business Council. He held that post until leaving in 1993 to become president of the GBC.
Charged with advocating policies that promote business, the GBC has had a voice in everything from fighting crime to improving Baltimore's government.
Under Hutchinson, the GBC led efforts to develop the Hippodrome Performing Arts Center, which is under construction on Baltimore's west side.
Hutchinson is also credited with spearheading a 1 1/2 -year effort among business leaders to help Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley develop a plan to remake the city government. The group came up with 350 recommendations, 80 percent of which have been embraced by O'Malley's administration.
The exercise has been widely credited with helping O'Malley establish closer ties to the business community.
Hutchinson says he plans to use his new position to continue advocating for Maryland business.
"The public policy side of my life has been the driving force of my life, but the good news is that I won't be walking away from that completely," he said.
Hutchinson began informal talks with SunTrust five weeks ago and was quickly drawn to the prospect of heading the bank, despite misgivings about giving up the job he has held longer than any other in his career.
"I've enjoyed it immensely, but it's time I think to make a change and I'm at that point in my life where either I do it now or I don't do it," he said.
Donald C. Fry, the GBC's executive vice president and general counsel, is to become the business group's acting president until a replacement is named.