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Born to run

After my haircut, Hamp Dowdy would strop his razor — punctuated by a harrumph and spit of tobacco juice into his coffee can — and shave around my ears. Then he’d shake talc on a horsehair brush and swab my neck as if beating out a brushfire. My dad would squeeze his thick wallet out of his bib overalls and give the old barber a dollar. All of which helps explain why I just took part in a bank run.

Down for the count

A few blocks away, in an executive suite 40 floors above damp streets, Bob Steel starts another day as his company’s last best hope. Just two months ago, the Durham native and former Wall Street investment banker had been lured from the Treasury Department and given a task as daunting as this day: Fix Wachovia Corp., the nation’s fourth-largest bank holding company, whose home here, along with BofA’s, makes this the nation’s No. 2 money center.

Economic outlook

Tar Heels were no better off last year than at the start of the decade, according to the North Carolina Justice Center, a Raleigh nonprofit. Median household income stood about where it did in 2000. During that time, the percentage of residents in poverty and those without health insurance grew.

Riding the bull



When a big deal means little

I like to think of myself as an Average Joe Six-Pack, but I know that’s not truly the case. I have a taste for decent red wines, I shop at Harry & David, and — God bless my conservative-leaning soul — I’m even an occasional guest on my local National Public Radio affiliate, so as to maintain my media-elite street cred. But let me nonetheless don the clothes of A.J. Six-Pack here to pose this question: How is a bigger, more powerful, Merrill Lynch-owning Bank of America good for me?

Gain amid the pain

Ken Thompson wasn’t the only chief executive of a big Tar Heel company forced out in the past year, and given the pain shareholders are feeling, more might go.

Parting is such sweet sorrow

It was clear Ken Thompson was in trouble, just not how much. Shares of Charlotte-based Wachovia Corp. had plunged, losing more than half their value as its 2006 purchase of mortgage lender Golden West dragged down earnings and the nation’s housing crisis deepened. The company had slashed its dividend 41%. When he relinquished his title as chairman, it was ostensibly to concentrate on his role as CEO to right the company. Yet less than a month later, the board forced him to retire.

Regional Report Charlotte August 2008

Durham native Robert Steel, 56, former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs and undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Treasury, became CEO of Charlotte-based Wachovia in July. He has a big mess to clean up. The bank expected to lose nearly $3 billion in the second quarter. What kind of leader did it get?

Economic outlook

The U.S. economy has softened, but there's no hard evidence it's in recession - defined by many economists as at least two straight quarters of decline in real gross domestic product.

His heart is in it

In one of the three straight years that Ed Martin won the Alliance of Area Business Publications gold medal for best body of work by a magazine reporter, the judges wrote: “His biggest talent? Telling a story. The concept sounds simple, but all writers — and especially business writers — seem to have a great trouble doing it. Martin knows reporting is the key to good storytelling and brings an intense level of investigation to stories.”

Regional Report Charlotte July 2008

If your mother says she loves you, aspiring journalists are often told, don’t take her word for it. Check it out. Investors would do well to treat announcements from Charlotte-based Wachovia Corp. with similar skepticism. In April, the bank cut its dividend by 41% — after executives promised it wouldn’t. In May, it stripped Ken Thompson, 57, of his chairman role in response to the the bank’s $350 million first-quarter loss and alleged regulatory indiscretions.

Get as good as you give

Four years ago, Ken Lewis shouldered a shovel to move dirt and shape public opinion. Bank of America Corp.’s CEO helped plant 38 dogwood trees in Boston’s Franklin Park, settling a Super Bowl bet with FleetBoston Financial’s former boss after the New England Patriots beat the Carolina Panthers, who play their home games just a few blocks from BofA headquarters in downtown Charlotte.

Economic outlook

Foreclosures are on the rise in North Carolina — up 9.4% in 2007 and expected to increase as much as 20% this year. Government help for borrowers and lenders is OK, says one expert, but don’t overdo it. After all, it’s their own fault. Jacob Vigdor is associate professor of public-policy studies and economics at Duke University. He studied the subprime-mortgage market for the National Taxpayers Union, an Alexandria, Va.-based group that advocates limits on government taxing and spending.

Luis Pastor

When Luis Pastor began volunteer work with Latino Community Credit Union in September 2000, it was meant to be a temporary gig. He and his wife had moved to Durham from Spain so she could get an MBA at Duke. He heard about the credit union, then open less than three months, and liked its mission.

R. Scott Anderson

Talk about a rock and a hard place. When Scott Anderson took over as CEO of Bank of Granite in January, what Warren Buffett once called “the best-run bank in the United States” was facing a crisis of its own making.

Tony Plath

How did an associate professor at UNC Charlotte get to be the go-to guy for commentary on North Carolina-based banks, showing up not only in the Tar Heel press but in such national publications as BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal?

Wade Reece

It took BB&T’s insurance subsidiary nearly 70 years to reach $6 million in annual sales. Seventeen years after Wade Reece took the reins, it’s about to hit $1 billion. So much for oil and water not mixing — the oil being bankers, who are supposed to shun risk, and insurers, who owe their existence to it.

Wisdom of the sage's

It’s often hard to separate fact from lore, and sometimes not even worth the trouble if you subscribe to that cynical wisdom among journalists that holds, “Facts have killed many a great story.” So I use Joseph Kennedy here only as a starting point and with no certainty that his famous utterance about the shoeshine boy was true.

Tipping point - Financial Services

More than any other person, Hugh McColl is responsible for North Carolina’s prominence in the financial sector. During his 18 years as CEO of what was NCNB Corp. and later became Bank of America Corp., the company stretched its footprint from one coast to the other and became the nation’s second-largest bank holding company.

In with the new

This is being written five days short of the winter solstice with New Year’s Eve only a fortnight hence. With both the season and calendar turning, it would seem an appropriate occasion to discuss some events both past and, shall we say, prescient. In looking ahead, I’m confining myself to that which I have foreknowledge, even though I’m well aware that opining on things one knows nothing about is one of the most cherished traditions of the journalist’s craft.