See that cool and understated (and utterly distinguished) gentleman standing to my immediate right in this photo at the opening of our new HOPE Center at Ebenezer? That is one Jim Wells. The former chairman and CEO of SunTrust Banks, the 8th largest bank in America. And his humble, 'standing back' personal leadership style, is not to be mistaken for any lack in a 'stand up' commitment for those less than, nor a young man with a vision.
Now, without question, Jim Wells is a top notch banker and no doubt he checked me out from top to bottom. But what I love most about Jim is, once he confirmed that 'I was who I represented myself to be,' he was 100% all in. 100% committed both to me, and my cause (Operation HOPE). He never looked back, from that moment.
Jim Wells was the first major bank CEO that received a call from then CEO of the FINANCIAL SERVICES ROUNDTABLE, Steve Bartlett, asking for a total of $5 million for the newly planned HOPE Financial Dignity Center at Dr. Kring's church, Ebenezer in Atlanta, Georgia. Jim Wells and SunTrust immediately committed to supporting the effort with $1 million. Because Jim committed, other CEO's did as well, and we raised all the funds pledged.
Jim Wells, while still CEO of SunTrust Banks, then put me in his car one day and drove me from Atlanta, Georgia to Birmingham, Alabama, to meet with key CEO's in the state. And not just any CEO's, but the only Fortune 500 CEO in the state, Grayson Hall, CEO of Regions Bank, and Johnny Johns, CEO of Protective Life Insurance Company, the largest insurer in the state. 50 years ago, I would have been driving Jim in Alabama, and it definitely would not have been to a business meeting -- for me!
Jim's goal in each and every meeting was the same -- to vouch for me. To let the other principals in the meeting know, 'this is my guy.' After living in the world of C-Suite Leaders for two decades now, I can say with certainly that there are few higher compliments than that which Jim Wells did for me, on this day, and so many others.
But why write this today, several years after he did this wonderful thing? Because he is still doing wonderful things! Like, last week! Last week, Jim Wells walked me in to meet Mr. Richard Anderson, Chairman and CEO of Delta Airlines, just like he had done before in Alabama, placing his reputation before mine. It was a great meeting, but I could not help but to be distracted by the gracious, care, and professional courage of one Jim Wells. So let me know make clear why I consider this 'professional courage.'
The civil rights movement was waged and won in the streets. The silver rights movement will be waged and won in the suits. Someone has to give you access to the suites. Someone has to vouch for you, amongst 'club members.' Jim Wells, and others, did that for me, and I will never forget it. That's why I have dedicated my life, to opening doors for others. Widening and deepening the access to American free enterprise, for all.
So the next time someone tells you that corporate leaders don't have a heart, you just stop them, and share the story of one Jim Wells. A man not simply about integration, but rather positive intervention.
Bless you Jim Wells. Bless you friend. I will never forget you.