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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

Remembering Ed Crutchfield, one of Charlotte’s banking and civic icons

One First Union (right), now One Wells Fargo Center, opened in 1988.
Lisa Worf
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One First Union, now One Wells Fargo Center, opened in 1988. Ed Crutchfield became CEO of First Union in 1984.

Now we’re going to take a moment to remember a man who helped turn Charlotte into the banking center it is today. Ed Crutchfield died Tuesday at age 82. As CEO of First Union in the 1980s and '90s, Crutchfield grew the bank into one of the largest in the country by acquiring other banks. It earned him the nickname Fast Eddie. He spoke to WFAE in 2015 about it.

“It came about apparently because I was doing so many acquisitions so fast in the bank,” Crutchfield said. “ And somebody, I don't know who, I guess around here, came up with that name and the Wall Street Journal picked it up. So every time after that it was Fast Eddie this, and Fast Eddie that.”

First Union later merged with Wachovia, which Wells Fargo then bought in 2008.

For more, I’m joined now by Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: Take me back to those early days when Crutchfield became First Union’s CEO. How was he able to transform it into a national bank?

Tony Mecia: Yeah, Marshall, it's really hard to overstate the importance that Ed Crutchfield had to Charlotte and to the buildup of the banking industry here. You know, he took over as CEO of First Union in the mid-1980s. Really, that was a time when you had a lot of banks that were growing by buying other banks and of course, it’s always a question of, are you going to buy a bank or are you going to be the bank that gets bought?

He would call his counterpart at Bank of America, or NationsBank, and they made sure that those jobs stayed in Charlotte. They would acquire companies and they would keep the headquarters in Charlotte. That was largely due, at the time, to changes in interstate banking laws that allowed purchases of banks across state lines.

Terry: But Crutchfield was more than just a banker. He along with former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl also shaped the growth of Charlotte in the '80s and '90s. What did he do, and what’s his legacy there?

Mecia: He was a member of what became known as ‘The Group.’ It was really a handful of Charlotte civic and business leaders that included Hugh McColl from NationsBank, Rolfe Neill, the former publisher of The Charlotte Observer, Mayor John Belk, Bill Lee of Duke Energy. They really had an outsized influence on being able to shape the city. If there was a need for arts funding, they could certainly write the checks themselves, but they can also go around it and they could make sure that things got done, that they saw as positive for Charlotte, that really helped influence Charlotte several decades ago and laid the groundwork for modern-day Charlotte.

Terry: Now Crutchfield and McColl were fierce rivals, weren’t they?

Mecia: They were. They competed head-to-head on a number of different fronts. You know, one was acquiring banks. You know, you would hear stories about they would both be in the same town talking to the same bank leader who was going to get bought, kind of like a college football coach swooping in to get a high school recruit or something like that.

They would battle over sides of uptown, you know, NationsBank was known as having all the real estate on North Tryon, First Union was known for having the real estate on South Tryon. They would battle over, you know, who had the bigger office tower. Some people read some things into that. At one time, the First Union building was the tallest building in Charlotte until it was eclipsed a few years later by, what is now, the Bank of America Corporate Center at Trade and Tryon. So yes, they definitely competed on a lot of different fronts but put that aside a lot of times to promote Charlotte and to advance the city.

Terry: Is the era of bank CEOs like Crutchfield and McColl being intimately involved in Charlotte's civic life and growth over?

Mecia: It is pretty much over, I think. Not to say that the banks that are here in Charlotte today are not involved; they're very involved civically and philanthropically, but you know, the focus of the CEOs of banks is not on Charlotte, like it once was. Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan lives in Boston. Wells Fargo, the successor to First Union, is now based in San Francisco. You have a bunch of other banks that have moved into Charlotte in a number of ways, but there's not really that focus that Hugh McColl and Crutchfield had in the 1980s and 1990s on building up Charlotte.

Terry: And in the past year, we've seen a lot of these longtime Charlotte business titans pass away — Jerry Richardson of the Panthers, Rolfe Neill of the Observer, Leon Levine of Family Dollar, now Crutchfield. Are we at a real generational shifting point?

Mecia: I think, in a sense. I mean these are people who made a mark in the 1980s, 1990s maybe when they were in their 50s and 60s and now, it's 2024 and they're getting up in age in their 80s.

But there's a new crop of leaders coming up, too. So, I would say yes, it is a bit of a change of guard that's been underway for the last couple of decades. But that's the nature of leadership in a city like Charlotte.

Support for WFAE's BizWorthy comes from Sharon View Federal Credit Union and our listeners.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.