No. 17: Liz Dukes, Synovus Financial Corp.
In a milestone for our annual reputation survey, eight regional banks achieved 'excellent' scores, partly because of a renewed focus on doing what's best for the customer, even at the expense of their bottom lines. Big banks lost some of the momentum they had, but none remain in the 'weak' zone.
A spike in core deposits increased funding costs and contributed to margin compression at Synovus in the second quarter. But the company could benefit from locking in liquidity now, particularly when interest rates rise.
Chief Strategy Officer, Synovus Financial Corp.
In her 13 years with Synovus Financial, Liz Dukes has yet to enjoy a lull.
A new challenge always seems to appear the moment the last one clears, from her early days helping implement the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, through charter consolidations, cost-cutting programs and capital raises, to her work leading regulatory fixes after the financial crisis.
"It seemed like Synovus was always doing something big," Dukes says.
When the Columbus, Ga., company repaid the Troubled Asset Relief Program last year, jettisoning its last baggage from the crisis, she thought there might be a breather at last.
"There was a very brief celebration — about 30 seconds," Dukes says. "Now we have to grow."
Dukes is at the center of that effort as the $26 billion-asset company's first chief strategy officer, a job she took on last year. She helped craft a five-year growth plan and is now leading its implementation, making sure that "the left hand knows what the right hand's doing" across the company.
It's a complex role that involves working with the head of each business line to shape strategy, then directing resources where they need to go.
But she's had more than a decade working with the company's senior staff. Her exposure to top-level strategy early in her career made her realize that "I wanted to do more than accounting," she says.
It wasn't always so for Dukes. Her high-school yearbook quote was "I'm going to be a CPA someday" — "I wasn't a nerd at all," she says, smiling — and she worked for Ernst & Young after graduating from college. She went on to manage the finances for a concert venue in South Carolina, before moving to Georgia to be close to family.
"Then I made the natural transition from the entertainment industry into banking," she deadpans.
Her career with Synovus took a big step forward in 2010, when the company created a role for her as senior director of banking that spanned across all of its divisions. A little later, Chief Executive Kessel Stelling picked her to lead the company's relations with its regulators.
Doing both jobs at once was a big-time commitment, particularly for a single mother of two daughters. "Forty hours a week I worked one, and 40 hours a week I worked the other," she says of the two roles at Synovus.
But, she says, "apparently I didn't do a terrible job." The company was freed from two regulatory orders in 2011, setting it up for its growth push.
Dukes is glad to help direct the next stage of the company's evolution. "We are maturing as an executive group, and to be responsible for helping direct that is a huge challenge," she says.