Richard Anthony is at the age when most executives are honing their golf swing.
But the financial crisis has allowed few CEOs to coast to retirement, especially at troubled banking companies like Synovus Financial Corp.
Instead, Anthony, 63, has recently consolidated his control of the $34.5 billion-asset Columbus, Ga., company and outlines a tenacious attack on credit issues. He is also blunt about the effort's likely short-term impact.
"The next couple of quarters are going to be tough because we will be aggressively trying to meet our troubles head on … , and you can't do that without taking some losses," Anthony said in a wide-ranging interview this week. "That will challenge the bottom line."
Still, Anthony, who recently added the president's title to his business card, said he has no immediate need or desire to raise capital, either by selling common stock or converting preferred shares.
"We don't want to raise equity, but we do have an obligation to monitor our situation," he said. "We started from a good base and believe we have sufficient capital."
Synovus has lost money for three consecutive quarters as it built loan-loss reserves and wrote off real estate development loans in Florida and Atlanta. The CEO said the company has asked all of its 30 bank presidents, even those in less-stressed markets, to step up efforts to sell distressed assets to help Synovus get a better grip on credit.
Anthony said Synovus should get better prices and take smaller writedowns by moving properties in more stable markets, which also gives it more time to evaluate offers for sites in distressed areas. An emphasis is placed on finding local buyers, which normally pay a higher price than would out-of-market wholesale buyers "who will hound you down for a fire sale."
As a result, the company has had to harmonize its historically decentralized model of having several dozen banks with the urge to promote stronger corporatewide policies during the recession. In the past year Synovus has merged several banks and made tasks such as risk management and asset disposition corporate responsibilities.
On Wednesday Anthony continually stressed the importance of tapping "local" connections for buyers while insisting that a "global" focus on credit would benefit the company. "The message is that a Synovus problem loan is a problem regardless of where it resides," he said.
Walter Todd 3rd, a portfolio manager at Greenwood Capital Associates LLC in Greenwood, S.C., said the strategy makes sense.
"It sounds like they are trying to rip the Band-Aid off as opposed to moving slowly," he said. "There is an opportunity cost to holding onto those assets. Banks can get good spreads if they have the flexibility to lend … and it would make sense to unload some of those bad assets to free up capital."
Kevin Fitzsimmons, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill & Partners LP, also called the broader disposition strategy logical as Synovus looks to stabilize growth in nonperforming assets.
"I'm sure they have also learned the lesson from Atlanta and Florida that the price you get today is better than what you might get tomorrow, especially in markets that are just heading into the downturn," he said.
Synovus was able to resolve its most-troubling commercial exposure: a $220 million credit to Sea Island Co. The Synovus unit Columbus Bank and Trust agreed with Sea Island to consolidate the resort developer's debt into a new three-year credit facility.
Anthony said Synovus has also improved how it prices risk into originations. This, combined with some easing of deposit pricing, should help revenue tied to the net interest margin, he added. Expense growth also appears to be under control, which should help boost earnings once credit issues subside.
The chief executive has taken on more responsibility since last month's resignation of Frederick Green 3rd, who was the company's president and viewed by many outsiders as Anthony's most likely eventual successor. Anthony said he has no immediate plan to retire, though the company will soon begin work on a "good plan" for succession.
Anthony, who took over oversight of the company's banks, said he is comfortable handling these tasks. "We're on a mission, and I feel energized right now," he said. "Having a flatter organization has allowed me to have more hands-on contact. There are good things that can come from that, and it will perhaps let us move more quickly in some areas."