John Medlin, Wachovia CEO as Assets Grew 10-Fold, Dies at 78

Former Wachovia CEO John Medlin Dies at 78
John Medlin, former chief executive officer of Wachovia Corp. sits for a portrait. Photographer:Rob Nelson/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

John Medlin Jr., who presided over Wachovia Corp. during a 17-year period when its assets grew 10-fold and it became a national banking institution, has died. He was 78.

Medlin died yesterday of a heart attack while playing tennis at a country club at Grandfather Mountain, near Linville, North Carolina, according to Sheffield Hale, his son-in-law. He lived in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

During his tenure as chief executive officer, from 1977 through 1993, Wachovia’s assets grew to $35.3 billion from $3.6 billion, the New York Times reported in 1993. Medlin joined Wachovia, based in Winston-Salem, in 1959, and he served as chairman until 1998, when he became chairman emeritus.

“He was an old-fashioned banker who thought his responsibility was to the customers and keeping the bank safe and sound,” former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker said today in a telephone interview. “He was not a trading guy, he was not a quant.”

In a 1999 oral-history interview, Medlin said, “Shareholders don’t really care about how big you are. They care about what happens to their stock. Customers don’t care about how big you are. They care about the service that you give them.”

First Union

Medlin was an early backer of First Union Corp.’s successful acquisition of Wachovia in 2001, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. Seven years later, in the collapse of the subprime-mortgage market produced a $24 billion loss at Wachovia for the third quarter in 2008, leading to its sale to Wells Fargo & Co., announced in October of that year.

Wells Fargo, based in San Francisco, replaced the last Wachovia signs in its branches last year.

“But Wachovia will always be indelibly etched on my mind and in my heart,” Medlin told Business North Carolina in 2011. “It was my life for 40 years or so.”

Medlin told the publication that his generation of Wachovia leaders consisted of “disciplined entrepreneurs” who took “calculated risks.”

“We made loans in which you were taking risks on people who had good character and ability but not strong finances at the time you made the loan,” he said. “In the 1970s and 1980s, we pioneered employee stock-ownership plans. In the ’80s, we were one of the first to have variable-rate credit cards. When rates went through the roof, you had a better chance of selling somebody a credit card because you could tell them their rates would go down when overall rates went down. We pioneered variable-rate home loans.”

John Grimes Medlin, Jr. was born on Nov. 23, 1933, in Benson, North Carolina, according to Marquis Who’s Who. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1956. He was an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1956 to 1959, according to a Wells Fargo biography.

He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Pauline, and two daughters, Elizabeth Hale and Ridgely Phillips.

Dakin Campbell in San Francisco at

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