Tar Heel Tattler - October 2005

Headquarters get ahead of themselves
By Frank Maley

If Raymond Chandler had written a book about RBC Centura Banks Inc.’s Aug. 30 announcement that it was moving its headquarters from Rocky Mount to Raleigh, he might have titled it The Long Hello. The first clue came in September 2002, about a year after Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada bought Centura Banks. That’s when RBC Centura agreed to pay $80 million to rename the state capital’s 21,500-seat arena the RBC Center.

Five months later, the bank’s president and chief operating officer moved his office to Raleigh. “Don’t read too much into this,” Scott Custer told The News & Observer, noting that CEO Kel Landis’ office remained in Rocky Mount.

But when Custer replaced Landis in October 2004, he stayed in Raleigh. The bank was struggling. It took a few profitable quarters and more executive transfers before the headquarters finally moved about 50 miles west. “I think it’s always good to declare your intentions,” Custer says. “You eliminate the doubt and speculation that’s out there.”

The bank, which has about 350 employees in the Triangle, expects to pick a site for its headquarters soon. Employment could reach 500 by 2008, when the new building will be finished. About 1,000 jobs will stay in Rocky Mount.

But give RBC Centura credit. Some companies never say they’re moving. Case in point: Lowe’s Cos. Founded in North Wilkesboro in 1946, the hardware retailer moved to neighboring Wilkesboro. Four years ago, it announced that it was planning a “corporate office expansion” in Mooresville. When asked by The Charlotte Observer, a spokesman denied that the company was moving its headquarters.

But in late 2003, press releases were issued from Mooresville. And regulatory filings began listing Mooresville as its primary address. Lowe’s calls it the “Mooresville Customer Support Center.” It’s where CEO Robert Niblock has his office, a spokesman says. “We just don’t call it headquarters.”