Cover Story: One-on-one with Hugh McColl

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - He's stayed mostly silent during the last year while his former bank has gone through the wringer.  But this week, Hugh McColl talks exclusively and candidly about Bank of America, his thoughts on the economy and what he thinks of Charlotte.

"Charlotte is as good as it always was," he says.  "All of the things that brought all of us are still here.  It's a great place to live, great place to work and even though it sounds trite a great place to raise a family.  So it's still a great town."

He doesn't talk to the media much, but in a chance meeting along East Boulevard this week Hugh McColl did talk to us.  He's a man who helped put Charlotte on the map. "We're on the map all right," he said.

Though he retired from Bank of America nearly 10 years ago, McColl who's 74, still wields a ton of influence.  And like the E.F. Hutton commercials used to say, when he talks people listen.

Though it's showing signs of a recovery, McColl says he's not sure we're there yet.  Positive economic numbers seen in the last three months of last year were largely affected, he believes, by the government pumping money into the economy getting people to buy cars and to purchase homes.

What's Washington need to do next?

He says, "I also hope they'll consider tax breaks for small businesses because at the end of the day the small businesses are going to be who hires people and we need to do everything we can to encourage the small businesses and so we'll see tax breaks for them."

The bank McColl ran for 18 years isn't the same bank of today.  His was primarily a company concerned with retail banking.

In the decade since his departure Bank of America with the acquisition of Countrywide Mortgages, MBNA, and Merrill Lynch has become number one in every field of banking (mortgages, credit cards and investment banking.)

But as a big recipient in the government-bank bailout it's opened up the bank to intense scrutiny in Washington and on Main Street.

And though the bank's stock, now at about $15 a share is starting to recover from last year's tanking, like the rest of the market it has a long way to go to get back to the heady days of 2006 when it peaked at $53.87.

"We are a mirror of the world around us," says McColl.  "And as that world gets better the bank gets better. So being candid everyone should hope the Bank gets better.. it means the rest of us will be doing pretty good."

On the subject of Andrew Cuomo, the New York Attorney General who's suing the Bank and former CEO Ken Lewis and CFO Joe Price for fraud McColl says, "I find it odd that he's picking on the Southern bank when he has plenty of people in his own state that could be looked at. That's it. Bye."

And as quickly as the interview began it was over.

About Bank of America's new CEO Brian Moynihan, McColl says he's a smart man and he has all the confidence in him.

McColl will be sharing more of his thoughts about banking and the economy in two weeks when he hosts a conversation with Morgan Stanley CEO John Mack.

That's at Queens University on February 24th.. the event marking the 30th anniversary of the McColl School of Business.

If you want to hear more of Jeff's interview uncut.. it's on look for web extras.

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