Paul S. White, with his English accent and wide lapels, wouldn't draw a second glance at a U.S. money-center bank, or even a superregional like First Union Corp. But at SunTrust Banks Inc. he represents a revolution of sorts.

Mr. White, formerly with Barclays Bank International, is one of only a handful of high-level SunTrust executives to be hired from outside the bank since the mid-1980s. As senior vice president and managing director of SunTrust Capital Markets Inc., he's been put in charge of building up a derivatives operation, a major departure for the Atlanta-based bank company.

SunTrust's decision to hire Mr. White, a clear break from its tradition of promoting from within, can be traced directly to the company's "Growth Project," a three-year program designed to boost revenues in six lines of business. One targeted business is corporate finance, where SunTrust lacked the huge capital markets capacity of its North Carolina rivals First Union and NationsBank Corp.

Mr. White's assignment at SunTrust is to expand the menu of sophisticated financial products, including derivatives, that can be offered to corporate clients. Mr. White's boss, R. Charles Shufeldt, president and CEO of SunTrust Capital Markets, says the bank needed an outsider such as Mr. White to jump-start that effort.

"Paul just thinks bigger," Mr. Shufeldt says. "We've got a pretty incremental approach to doing things around here, and we're not going to lose that entirely. But having someone who's really pulling on that harder than someone internally was a valuable asset."

Mr. White is quick to add that he doesn't intend to pull too hard. He intends to build SunTrust's derivatives capability gradually by adding people able to structure and sell products. He isn't yet sure whether SunTrust Capital Markets needs a dealer's trading desk.

"My job here is to build capital markets, not just derivatives," Mr. White says. "It's really having enough firepower in the place to be innovative with respect to solving client problems."

Overall, SunTrust Capital Markets plans to hire 35 employees by yearend, spread over 11 business units. Mr. Shufeldt says he particularly wants to strengthen the securitization and public finance units.

"The Growth Project has given us time to invest in those people and resources without what has always been, in the past, a need for an absolutely immediate payback," Mr. Shufeldt says. "Now, in a lot of companies, that wouldn't be a big departure necessarily. But for us it was."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.