Table of Contents June 2013

June 2013

Cover story

Worldly things

Sharon Decker, who left corporate life to be a minister, shepherds the Department of Commerce’s conversion.
By Edward Martin Queen stirs potato soup. At the church dinner tonight, tables will sag beneath fried chicken, casseroles, pies and other dishes. After the blessing, members will sit elbow- to-elbow, eating and discussing who’s ailing and who has traded pickup trucks. Most had family in this part of rural Rutherford County when Union Mills Presbyterian Church was founded in 1905. “My husband, Tom, and I are probably the only ones in the congregation not kin to each other,” she says, laughing.

A few years ago, a new minister came to the church. She was a lay pastor, unordained but persuasive. Backlit by rays shining through a crucifixion scene in the stained-glass window behind the pulpit, she wove soulful personal anecdotes into her sermons. Once, she inspired Queen to ride a bicycle 32 miles in a charity fundraiser. “Believe me,” Queen says, “I am not an athlete.”

Trim and smartly dressed, Sharon Decker was a middle-age mother of four, but it wasn’t hard to picture her when she had been Miss Ashbrook High School ’75 or, three years later, Miss Gastonia. “My children are horrified at the thought of me parading in a swimsuit,” she joked to the congregation. She had been a corporate star in Charlotte but, at 41, left for little Rutherfordton, just down the road from Union Mills, to be president of a women’s apparel company and, later, of its parent. But throughout her career, something else kept calling, so the Baptist minister’s daughter finally decided to follow her father’s footsteps.

Late last year, she had nearly completed her master’s in divinity with plans to be a university chaplain. Then, three days after Christmas, a car slowly rolled up the driveway to her house, with its panoramic view of Chimney Rock. Pat McCrory was at the wheel. They’ve known each other more than 30 years, since both were young executives at Duke Power Co. “She’s dynamic, she’s smart, she has extremely good business experience,” he says. “And, last but not least, there are her values.” When he sent word he had a job for her, she declined, so he had driven 70 miles from Charlotte to plead in person.


Delivering the news

Warren Buffett buys newspapers in North Carolina because he thinks they can still turn a profit.
By Philip Meyer
When Warren Buffett wrote this year’s letter to Berkshire Hathaway Inc. shareholders, he waited until page 16 to announce his renewed interest in what many consider a dying industry. He gave the section a sheepish headline: We Buy Some Newspapers … Newspapers? Since late 2011, the investor’s Omaha, Neb.-based holding company has acquired 28 dailies, six in North Carolina. He knows his move is counterintuitive, considering the recent history of the newspaper business, but if he is right, it signals good news for the state. The case for optimism can be found by comparing Buffett’s history with that of daily newspapers in the United States.

A sense of community

Rising on the Financial 100, VantageSouth bulks up small, weak banks by creating strength in numbers.
By Emily Wallace
Scott Custer chooses a shallow course when asked to chart his career, describing his ascent from Wachovia trainee to RBC chief executive by rattling off a few banks and titles. “That’s trying to give you the quick snapshot of everything that I’ve done,” he says, sitting in the headquarters of VantageSouth Bank — and its parent, Crescent Financial Bancshares Inc. — in Raleigh. “There’s a lot you could fill in in between, but that would be boring.” Maybe so, but the bank he leads as CEO has been anything but dull lately — its recent acquisition of Engelhard-based ECB Bancorp Inc. nearly doubled its assets to about $2 billion. Even excluding that deal, VantageSouth leapt 32 spots to No. 18 on this year’s Financial 100, Business North Carolina’s annual ranking by revenue of the largest banks, thrifts and credit unions with headquarters in the state. (Mergers that closed in 2013 are not included.) That’s the largest improvement of any financial institution on the ranking, compiled by New York-based SNL Financial LC. More important, Custer and VantageSouth are helping redefine community banking in the state — for better and worse.

Photo Feature

Feat of clay
It’s the pits: Lee Brick continues to be a major supplier.

By Edward Martin, Photography by Bryan Regan

Hugh Perry’s consortium wasn’t the first to make brick in Lee County. Both Sanford Brick Corp. and Borden Brick and Tile Co. had laid their foundations by 1951, when Perry and 10 Sanford businessmen got in on the post-World War II housing boom. But while others have exhausted their on-site shale, Lee Brick & Tile Co.’s is holding out fine — it will make about 40 million bricks this year. “Don’t worry,” says Mike Lilly, manufacturing vice president. “There’ll be plenty left when I retire. And I’m in my 50s.”


Up Front
Paper trails.

NC Trend
How the economy turns.

John Hood — Free & Clear
Expirations on regulations.

Scott Mooneyham — Capital Goods
Sweepstakes industry pays to play.

Regional Report
Eastern Triangle Triad Charlotte Western

Special Advertising Sections and Publications

Western North Carolina round table

Advanced medicine special section

Insurance special section

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