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Former First Union CEO Ed Crutchfield dies at 82

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.

Former First Union CEO Ed Crutchfield grew the Charlotte bank into one of the largest in the country and helped shape the city’s growth. His son told the Charlotte Observer Crutchfield died Tuesday at 82. He had dementia.

First Union hired Crutchfield in 1965 as a bond trader right out of business school. Eight years later, Crutchfield became president of the bank at age 32, the youngest person to hold that title at a major U.S. bank at the time.

Crutchfield grew up in Stanly County, east of Charlotte.

North Carolina laws allowed banks to set up branches more easily and acquire banks within the state. First Union did plenty of that. As banking laws loosened and interstate banking opened up in 1985, Crutchfield started buying up other banks rapidly.

“If you're moving pretty fast — and right or wrong, I was moving pretty fast — doing one about every 60 days, it was like planes taking off at an airport,” said Crutchfield in a 2015 interview with former WFAE reporter Michael Tomsic. “You really needed to get that latest deal integrated before you went to the next one or you could have some congestion, let's just call it — some trouble operationally.”

Crutchfield also wanted to transform Charlotte into a bustling city that would make it easier to recruit. He had a rival who wanted the same thing, former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl.

“Now we tried to kill each other when it came to getting customers. It was ready, fire, aim on getting customers,” Crutchfield said. “But when it came to things that would build a city, we just made up our minds we were going to cooperate totally and we did.”

Crutchfield was part of a circle of business leaders — known as “The Group” — that worked together on community projects.

By the time Crutchfield retired in 2001, First Union had acquired more than 80 companies in 15 years and was the sixth-largest bank in the country. He stepped down at age 59 after a lymphoma diagnosis.

The bank merged with Wachovia later in 2001 and was bought by Wells Fargo in 2008 during the banking crisis.

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Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.