Interview With Jimmy Faulkner

Jimmy Faulkner - Leading by Example (full interview)

Jimmy Faulkner, a former BB&T board member, shares the influences and principles that guided his path to leadership.

[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to the BB&T leadership series. We appreciate you joining us today. We're delighted to have with us James A. "Jimmy" Faulkner. Jimmy, thank you for joining us on the BB&T Leadership Series. 

Thank you for this opportunity. 

Of course, Jimmy's bank, Century South, merged with BB&T in the year 2000. A very successful merger, one of the best we've ever had. And Jim was the CEO of that organization as we did that merger. So very experienced, and I'm glad to have you on the series. Let's start out with something that is an age old question about leaders, and that is are leaders born or are leaders developed? You started at a very young age with the bank, and I suspect you became a better leader as time went on. But what's your thought about leaders being born versus being developed? 

Well, you know Kelly, I think that's a question that all of us ponder through the years. If you look at my background, you would say that's probably not somebody who's going to become a leader. I'm an only child. My parents were 35 years old when I was born. Both common laboring people-- my mother worked in a cotton mill. My father was an appliance repairman for Georgia Power Company. 

And interestingly, my father had dropped out of school when he was in the third grade. He was the last of 11 children. His father died when he was nine months old. So when he became old enough, and as he says, back in those days when you were old enough to be able to look over the looms in a cotton mill, you'd go to work. And so he went to work when he was roughly 10 years old to help provide for what was then my grandmother. 

But I think the most influential thing in my early childhood was my family, first of all they were a loving Christian family. My father, because of him having to drop out of school so early, encouraged me to always do my best and to be my best. As a junior in high school, we started a Key Club, which is an organization sponsored by the Kiwanis club. And I was fortunate enough to be elected president of that club. That gave me the opportunity on a weekly basis to go meet with leaders in our community at the weekly Kiwanis club meeting. 

So I guess I began from that point to learn some leadership skills from observing others, mostly. I think some of the greatest qualities that I learned, and hopefully I employed them, was first and foremost the golden rule-- treat others as you want to be treated. Then I'd say an enthusiastic positive attitude, which I know you are a strong believer in and we've heard many times. But it can't be overemphasized. 

You know, I think I've always seen the glass as being half full, not half empty. I've known many people who had great ability, but because they didn't have that positive enthusiastic attitude, they didn't attain to the heights that they could have attained to. 

So was I born a leader? Probably not, but there must have been something that someone saw in there that helped me to attain the ability and the opportunity for that leadership. 

That's a fantastic background, and it's as close to being a born leader as I've ever heard. You know, I think that we all have natural characteristics that can sometimes make it easier for us to be a leader, or somewhat more challenging. But my view has been that everyone can become a leader, depending on the leadership role they may have to change. And I'm sure you've had to change some. So think about rolling way forward many years later from the Key Club to where you were the CEO of Century South-- a large bank in the southeast. It was very, very successful. What was it like being the CEO of Century South? 

Well, first of all it was humbling. I think anytime you're a leader of a successful organization, you have to thank God for the opportunity. But to know that you have sway over a lot of people's lives-- in your case 40,000 people, plus all our shareholders. But as I think back to those days, I remember a very trite saying that my father said to me. Again, he was not a formally educated man, but he was educated in the ways of the world. And he said, son remember one thing. As you climb the ladder of success, be careful whose neck you step on. Because when you come back down that ladder, those same two eyes are going to be looking right at you. 

So I tried to employ that. I tried to treat people as I would want them to treat me. And I think that helped us that Century South. We were very fortunate. We acquired 17 banks, as you know, in 15 years. So we had to bring a lot of people into our organization, and to help them to maybe change some of their actions and the way that they did things. And that worked well. And again, that humility that I hope I always showed. 

One of the things that I used to tell our people was that you need to be happy, and you're the only one that can make yourself happy, and if you're not happy in the job you have, you owe it first to yourself, second to your family, third to the organization to find out why you're not happy and do everything in your power to make yourself happy with what you're doing. 

Another little trite saying that I told our people was that, you know, if I walk across the parking lot as the CEO of the company, if I walk across the parking lot and there's a piece of paper laying there and I don't pick it up, guess what? The next person that walks behind me says, well, he didn't pick it up. Why should I? So I think leadership by example is the greatest thing that I was able to do at Century South. 

I think that is so true about all aspects of life. And certainly in a corporate leadership role, when you don't do the little things right, people draw really big conclusions from it. I've observed in my own experience there is a big difference between direct leadership and indirect. 

Yes. 

So as a board member, as clearly the ultimate decision maker for the company but in an indirect kind of way, how do how would you help people understand-- because some people think, if I'm not in charge then I'm not a leader. But in fact, you can be a leader even as a follower. Or you can be a leader indirectly over a group of people. How do you feel about that? 

Well, I think you couldn't be more right. And frankly, it's my opinion that good followship makes good leadership. I don't think that any of us can succeed by ourselves. We have to have people who have leadership abilities and know where their level of leadership comes into play in the organization. Granted, there can only be one CEO. But to be successful as a CEO, then you've got to have those people who are willing to participate at their appropriate level. 

Jimmy, let's think about young people out there that are thinking about their future career or careers. If you were talking to someone like you would your son or daughter, what advice would you give them from a leadership point of view to think about as they begin and continue their career? 

Be positive. Anybody can be negative. But it takes someone with some leadership ability, and we all have it. It's just finding where that needs to be. Be positive. Look for the good in people. There is enough bad that's obvious in most all of us, quite frankly. But there is good in people, and look for that good. Try to do the things that will lift that good up in our fellow man. 

Be honest. Be loyal. Be faithful to yourself first of all, and to those around you. And I would say, you can expand a lot on those things, but just those few things are things that you can take and utilize to make your life better and make the life of those that you're around better. 

Well, you sure have lived out those concepts and principles over your life. You know, a truly distinguished career, a 49 year career. Excellent growth of an organization, Century South. Ended up being the CEO of that merge into BB&T. Been on the bank board and the corporate board of BB&T, the eighth largest bank in the United States. Quite a great career. Congratulations to you, Jimmy, and thank you for joining us on the BB&T Leadership Series. 

Well, thank you for this opportunity. 

Appreciate it.

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