Passing the torch from one generation of a family to another has been common in banking. Current CEOs who followed their fathers into banking include Banc One Corp.'s John McCoy.
And in spite of merger-related layoffs that has soured some on banking, the tradition continues.
Ralph Horn, chairman and chief executive of First Tennessee National Corp., Memphis, recalls that when his son first sought his advice on a career, he didn't outwardly recommend banking.
"My recommendation to him was find a company that looks like it would take care of the needs he had in terms of opportunity and growth."
While Mr. Horn's son, Darrell, started out as an account executive with PaineWebber in Memphis, he eventually joined the securities unit of Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks Inc. as a bond trader.
A few years later, Nashville-based First American Corp. hired away Darrell Horn to run its bond division. Like father, like son. The elder Mr. Horn spent most of his career in First Tennessee's bond division before moving into upper management.
Unlike Mr. Horn, J. Alton Wingate, long-time president and CEO of Community Bankshares in Cornelia, Ga., did encourage his son, Frank, to enter banking.
After several years with NationsBank Corp. in Atlanta, Frank Wingate moved to South Carolina to manage the newly chartered Community Bank of Greenville.
Mr. Wingate said he still regards banking as a good career, but only for someone with a flexible mindset.
"If some bright, young person today is energetic and sales-oriented, they've got a bright future," he said. "But if you want to be a traditional banker, and bank like your father and grandfather, I don't think there's a place for you."
J. Blake Young Jr. couldn't agree more.
The former executive vice president in NationsBank's wealth management group in Atlanta said he's glad that his son has entered an area of banking that reflects the industry's changing face.
James Blake Young 3d recently completed SunTrust's management training program and is now working in the bank's agribusiness lending unit, which offers financial services to agriculture- related companies.
"I kid my son a lot about that, because it's certainly not like what we did, which was making a loan every now and then to somebody who had a farm," Mr. Young said.
Like Mr. Horn and Mr. Wingate, Mr. Young believes banking offers more opportunity nowadays because banks have broadened product menus to offer a full range of financial services, including mutual funds, discount brokerage, investment management, and insurance.
"There are more things banks are doing," Mr. Young said.
But he also has seen the downside of industry consolidation. Mr. Young said he ended up as a "lame duck" last year after NationsBank bought his former employer, Bank South Corp. He quit NationsBank last month to explore other opportunities, at age 53.
Mr. Young said he knows bankers in Atlanta who spent careers with one institution.
He doesn't think that is possible anymore, but he also believes the increased willingness by banks to hire from outside their own ranks compensates for some of the insecurity.
"The mobility among and between banks is much greater today than when I came along," he said.