Union Planters Corp. was a troubled, $2 billion-asset community bank company when Benjamin W. Rawlins took over as chief executive officer in 1984. Under Mr. Rawlins, who died Tuesday night at age 62, it became a highly profitable super-regional that now has $34.2 billion of assets and 866 branches in 12 states.
"Growing the franchise is a real culture there, and he was definitely the spearhead of that," said Christopher Kelley, an analyst who covers Union Planters for Morgan Keegan & Co. in Memphis, where the bank is based. "When you look at this company, it has grown a lot through acquisitions, and Mr. Rawlins was very involved in that process."
Mr. Rawlins, who died at his home after having a heart attack, became CEO two years after quitting Union Planters in a dispute over strategy. The board of directors summoned him back - he had been CEO at a bank in Baton Rouge, La. - to turn around a company that went on to lose $18.7 million in 1984.
It was the last year that Union Planters lost money. The company earned a record $410 million in 1999, and with earnings of $204.2 million through June 30 is on pace to shatter that mark this year.
Al Kennebec, Union Planters' senior executive vice president for retail banking, said Mr. Rawlins "was in a class by himself" as a bank executive.
"His interest was in technology and the customer, and what technology could do for the customer in the long term," Mr. Kennebec said. "He was a forward thinker, and he was very passionate about banking and the financial services industry."
Mr. Rawlins, who was also chairman, will be succeeded by Jackson W. Moore, president and chief operating officer.
"All of those who had the good fortune to know and work with Ben are deeply saddened by his death," Mr. Moore said in a statement released Wednesday. "To Ben's credit, he assembled a team of very talented people. This team will continue to implement the strategic business plan that Ben envisioned."
Echoing Mr. Moore's comments, the analyst Mr. Kelley said he does not expect to see immediate change in Union Planters' strategy.
Shares in the company were up more than 3% Wednesday, to $33.81.
Mr. Rawlins' death "is a big loss to Tennessee banking," said Bill Houston, the state's banking commissioner. He "ran a very progressive organization, and it served Tennessee very well. I don't think I have ever heard anyone say a bad thing about him."
Mr. Rawlins had spent much of the last few months working on a blueprint for Union Planters' future. In August he approved a new vision, strategy, and culture statement that will be distributed to Union Planters employees later this year.
In his foreword, Mr. Rawlins wrote: "We want to operate as if our handshake is our bond. It is."