United Community Banks (UCBI) in Blairsville, Ga., has hired a veteran banker with extensive Southeast ties to become its new chief operating officer.

The $6.7 billion-asset company said late Tuesday that H. Lynn Harton, a former chief executive of South Financial Group in Greenville, S.C., had succeeded Guy Freeman, who retired earlier this year.

Harton has served in a variety of high-level management positions at banks. Harton joined South Financial in February 2007 as its chief risk officer before becoming the CEO the next year. As CEO, he helped orchestrate South Financial's sale to TD Bank, a unit of Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD).

Harton brings "decades of experience in developing strategy and executing in highly complex environments, which will be critical as our banks move forward to build their market potential," Jimmy Tallent, United Community's president and chief executive, said in a press release. "He knows the dynamics of commercial and middle-market banking and has an outstanding record of successfully growing deposits and delivering on credit expectations."

Harton's was the chief credit officer at Union Planters when the Memphis, Tenn., company was sold to Regions Financial (RF) in 2004. He had the same title at Regions when the Birmingham, Ala., company bought AmSouth Bancorp in 2006. (AmSouth ended up influencing the combined company's culture and took over most of Regions' top management posts.)

Harton, who had recently been TD Bank's executive vice president responsible for commercial and middle-market banking from Washington, D.C., to Florida, also had a lengthy management stint at BB&T (BBT) in Winston-Salem, N.C., before joining Union Planters.

"United Community Banks has a tremendous base from which to build," Harton said in the release. "It is an exciting environment with a foundation well positioned for long term growth."

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