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Columbia Business Monthly

Will UCB Move HQ to Greenville?

May 02, 2018 10:49PM ● By Makayla Gay

By David Dykes

  Veteran banker Lynn Harton, named chief executive officer of United Community Banks, Inc., the Blairsville, Ga.-based bank holding company, has strong ties to Greenville. The move raises the question: will United move its headquarters to Greenville?

Harton, in a recent interview, didn’t rule it in, or out.

“To me, you’ve got to ask yourself what you get and what you give up when you move a headquarters,“ he said. “There’s a lot of emotional and real issues that surround the headquarters.”

United’s charter is based in Georgia, so moving the headquarters to South Carolina would mean changing a 60-year regulatory relationship. It also would mean affiliating with a different Federal Reserve district, which carries out day-to-day operations of the Federal Reserve System.

Further, it would be a blow to United’s 360 Blairsville employees, “people that built this company,” Harton says.

Yet, United has more than 200 employees in Greenville, many in executive positions, and Greenville has been a “great place to recruit talent to,” he says.

“I’m probably less concerned about where the titled headquarters is than I am about making sure we maximize the strength of both Blairsville and Greenville,” Harton says. “Blairsville is more our heart. It’s our home. It’s where we learned how to be servants. Greenville is where we attracted the talent we needed to grow, expand and survive and thrive. You’ve got to have both.”

He adds, “Time will tell where the ‘headquarters’ is.”

In April, United announced that after almost 35 years, CEO Jimmy Tallent will retire from his current position effective June 30. Tallent will become executive chairman of United’s board of directors.

Harton, 56, has been president and CEO of United’s banking subsidiary, United Community Bank. He will remain based, and live, in Greenville, where United has a large corporate presence.

Those reporting directly to Harton, and based in Greenville, include the chief financial officer, chief credit officer, commercial banking solutions president, president of mortgage operations, chief information officer, and chief audit executive.

Three direct reports – chief risk officer, head of the community bank, and human resources director – are based in Atlanta or Blairsville.

Harton says one goal is to increase United’s share of deposits in its markets so the bank ranks in the top five or six.

“What we really want to be is the largest—what we would consider—true community bank in the market,” he says, “because you’re always going to have the Bank of Americas and the Wells Fargos in many of our markets—the BB&Ts or SunTrusts. You’re never going to be able out-market-share them. But what you can do is out-personalize them, out-service them, and you can give that local authority and local consistency that those banks can’t or won’t.”

United ranks ninth in the state and in the Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin area, according to the latest deposit market share data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. It is 14th in Charleston and North Charleston.

Harton wants a much bigger presence in the Columbia market, where United has just one loan office.

“We’d love to find the right team in Columbia,” he says. “We haven’t found them yet. We’d love to do it through an acquisition.”

Tallent has been with United since 1984. Under his stewardship, it expanded from a single location with $40 million in assets to a four-state regional community bank with $12.3 billion in assets.

“I have been committed to seeing United become a market-leading institution and regain the strength we have enjoyed for decades,” he says. “Today, the bank is thriving, and it has one of the most capable management teams in the industry. Lynn has done an excellent job as chief executive officer of the bank, and the time is right for me to reduce my role.”

Harton was named CEO of United Community Bank in August 2017 and elected to the board of directors in February 2015. Prior to joining United in 2012, Harton served in executive capacities with various financial institutions, including CEO of the Greenville-based South Financial Group, parent company of Carolina First, and chief credit officer for both Regions Financial Corp. and Union Planters Corp. He began his career with a 20-year stint at BB&T.

United Community Bank operates 151 offices in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee.