Stanhope Kelly, who as head of Wachovia Corp.'s banking division oversees operations in Georgia, Florida, Virginia, and the Carolinas, calls himself "very aspirational."
That was how he responded in an interview when asked to describe his personality, and it is a quality that may ultimately take the 41-year-old senior executive vice president to the top of Wachovia.
"He is up for potentially taking Bud Baker's spot,'' said Lori Appelbaum, a bank analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. L.M. "Bud" Baker Jr., 57, is the Winston-Salem, N.C., company's chairman and chief executive officer.
Mr. Kelly would not comment on the possibility of becoming CEO. "I'm focused on keeping the job they've given me today," said the intense and friendly North Carolinian.
His boss, Wachovia president G. Joseph Prendergast, who also is viewed by analysts as a potential successor to Mr. Baker, said Mr. Kelly "is one of the cadre of the next generation of leaders at Wachovia. It is fair to assume he will have increased responsibility over time."
In 19 years at Wachovia, Mr. Kelly made his strongest mark as head of consumer financial services, analysts said. He held that post from 1996 until being promoted to his current job, senior executive vice president, in April.
"He really proved himself overseeing the consumer bank operations,'' said Michael Mayo of Credit Suisse First Boston Inc. "He helped move Wachovia from an also-ran in consumer banking to having consumer banking as an advantage."
Mr. Kelly, who majored in business administration at North Carolina State University, oversaw the development of a sales strategy dubbed "Pro," for Profitable Relationship Optimization. The initiative, begun nearly three years ago, has Wachovia sales people drawing on a vast data base of information about its customers' financial needs and preferences.
"We're contacting more than 5,000 customers a day," Mr. Kelly said. About 20% of the contacts have produced a sales, and the retention rate of customers in the program is nearly 100%, said Wachovia treasurer Donald Truslow.
Mr. Kelly would not divulge more specific figures but said that Wachovia had expected a significant increase in earnings from the strategy this year and results have "exceeded expectations."
Said Christopher Mutascio, an analyst at Legg Mason Wood Walker in Baltimore,: "I'm quite impressed with his ability to make that a success."
Now Mr. Kelly is overseeing consumer and commercial banking across a network of more than 750 branches. An avid reader of business biographies, he said that he takes after the style of John Welch, chairman of General Electric Co. "He gives his people a lot of room," Mr. Kelly said. "He stretches you, holds you accountable, and then gets out of the way. That's what I like to do."
Mr. Kelly said the biggest reward of his job is seeing others succeed. "I have a huge desire to bring a lot of people along with me," he said.
Mr. Prendergast said Mr. Kelly's regard for his colleagues was particularly evident after Hurricane Floyd last month. "Within hours of the devastation becoming known, he and an associate ... pulled together a game plan to deal with the needs of customers and employees hurt by the floods," the Wachovia president said.
About 30 Wachovia workers lost their homes, and Mr. Kelly helped lead an effort first to supply them with temporary housing and then to set up a relief fund to aid them, with contributions from Wachovia and fellow workers. "Stan is a role model," Mr. Prendergast said. "People like to follow him."
Aside from Pro, Mr. Kelly said, Wachovia is bringing branch services to its customers, opening offices at workplaces and college campuses. "We've signed on hundreds of new companies this year alone," he said. "We're creating new branches in the workplace, grocery stores, hospitals, and gas stations." And Wachovia has developed a multiple-use smart card for students at the University of North Carolina.
He also oversees Wachovia's small-business banking program, developed under his guidance about two years ago. Businesses with no more than $2 million ofin annual revenue are counted as part of Wachovia's consumer sector. The strategy is to recapture the business of these companies from smaller banks.
"We're enjoying double-digit loan growth" in that segment, Mr. Kelly said. "Every month the results are getting better and better."
Wachovia is also making inroads in business banking, serving companies with $5 million to $25 million of revenue. "We've had significant, double-digit earnings growth in business banking the last couple years and expect that next year too," Mr. Kelly said, as a result of increasing the productivity of business bankers.
"We have grown revenues per banker by 30% over the last two years," he said, thanks largely to a centralization of back-office operations that lets bankers focus on selling.
In Virginia, one of the states Mr. Kelly oversees, "things are now going very smoothly after a few bumps" from Wachovia's 1997 acquisitions of Central Banks Inc. of Richmond and Jefferson Bankshares Inc. of Charlottesville. Mr. Kelly declined to reveal earnings of the Virginia operations. He said the state accounts for 25% to 30% of business volume in Wachovia's banking division. Wachovia ranks fourth in Virginia in terms of deposit share, Mr. Kelly said. "We have a lot of interest in northern Virginia," particularly around Washington, he said. "We're building the franchise."
"My impression is, they've overcome the merger bumps, and I think you'll see them succeed in nNorthern Virginia," said Christopher Marinac, a bank analyst at Robinson-Humphrey Co. in Atlanta.
In Georgia, Wachovia ranks third in deposits, Mr. Kelly said. "All our businesses are hitting on all cylinders," he said. "We had double-digit earnings growth the last two years and will this year too."
Wachovia's agreement last week to acquire B C Bankshares Inc. of Canton, Ga., for $134 million shows it is "making a greater push on the retail side" in the state, Mr. Marinac said.
In Florida deposits, Wachovia is a lowly 25th.. But earnings there, too, are growing at a double-digit clip, Mr. Kelly said. "And the state as a whole will grow in importance to Wachovia."
The Carolinas account for 40% of the banking division's volume, Mr. Kelly said. Wachovia is No. 1 in South Carolina deposits and No. 4 in North Carolina, where it trails Bank of America Corp. and First Union Corp., both in Charlotte, and BB&T Corp. of Winston-Salem. "It's our most mature market and offers good growth potential," Mr. Kelly said.
Indeed, he sees rising earnings potential in all his states. "In the next 10 years, people will retire and move to these areas," Mr. Kelly said. "Those will be high-growth markets."
The future is also bright for Mr. Kelly himself, colleagues and analysts say. Mr. Marinac called him "clearly a rising star."