When it was announced last Thursday that Billy Blanchard is vacating the presidency of CB&T early in 2017, the final paragraphs of an important chapter in the history of a storied local bank were written.
The Blanchard family’s connections to Columbus Bank & Trust began in 1957, when James W. Blanchard relocated from Valdosta to become president of a rising bank in Columbus that had been around since 1888.
When he died in 1970, the bank unexpectedly turned to Jimmy Blanchard, his 28-year-old son, who always intended to be a lawyer rather than a banker. It proved to be a wise move. for he would expand the imprint of the local institution and transform it into a force in statewide banking.
As the company grew and the industry evolved, the parent company became Synovus Financial Corp. Jimmy Blanchard became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer and his personal reputation in business spread over Georgia.
Others held the office of president of the founding bank until 2009, when Billy Blanchard —their grandson and son respectively — moved into the corner office on 12th Street. He had been working at the bank since 1995.
His father retired from Synovus in 2011. Soon, he became Chairman of the Board and an active partner in Jordan-Blanchard Capital LLC in Columbus. Billy joins that firm in January, reuniting the two Blanchards.
This means that in 2017, for the first time in six decades, neither CB&T nor Synovus will have a Blanchard on the active roster — though Billy will keep his seat on the CB&T Advisory Board. He will be succeeded as president by Heath Schondelmayer, a 20-year veteran with the bank.
The banking world is constantly evolving and this move at Columbus’ largest bank could prove to be more than a symbolic family transition. It is a move that could impact the community far beyond the ATM.
Three issues bear watching.
• Synovus has been systematically rebranding many of its local banks in the five Southern states that it serves. So after 128 years of doing business in the Columbus area, will CB&T soon be known as Synovus?
• With Synovus Chairman and CEO Kessel Stelling’s deep roots in Cobb County and his ongoing role on the University System Board of Regents that is headquartered in Atlanta, will the company decide to relocate its headquarters to the Atlanta area?
• There is also the matter of a 100,000 square foot Synovus building that is set to open next year in Greater Atlanta, not far from the Braves’ new baseball stadium. Spokesmen for the bank say the company isn’t moving, but there are fewer local voices left to remind them of that proud past.
The possibility of the company taking such dramatic steps continues to increase. From the beginning, CB&T was influenced by members of the Bradley and Turner family. As new names have emerged on the bank’s letter head, that influence has declined.
With waning health, Bill Turner is not as active as he was in the past and current leaders don’t look to him for guidance as often as past generations did. Jimmy Blanchard has been increasingly busy with other things and son Billy is about to join him. In addition to them, past leaders such as Jimmy Yancey, Sam Wellborn and Steve Melton are no longer around.
These are historic issues and if — or when — such changes come they will affect many people inside and outside of the traditional CB&T family. If these changes should come to pass, they will affect the future of local banking and the overall landscape of the Columbus business community.