How a bank CEO defines success

John Turner (AB ’89) details his customer-centric approach to banking

Matt Weeks | Apr. 10, 2019

John Turner TLSS
Regions Financial Corp. President and CEO John Turner, right, speaks at the Chapel during a Terry Leadership Speaker Series event.

Hard work, a friendly demeanor and principled decisions led John Turner (AB ’89) to become president and CEO of Regions Financial Corp. — values that can help anyone’s career, he said at a Terry Leadership Speakers Series event.

“Culture is huge. We spend a ton of time on culture and think that it is really important,” Turner said. “We have a concept called shared value, which is this idea that business is only done well when all parties benefit: our customers, our shareholders, our communities and our associates. If we’re doing a transaction and one of those parties is negatively impacted in some way, it’s not a good transaction; it’s not good business.”

Regions serves customers in 15 states throughout the Southeast and Midwest. Turner joined the company in 2011, just in time to help guide it through the thick of the biggest financial downturn in decades.

“In the Great Recession, we asked our team to focus on customer service,” he said. “We saw an evolving picture. We thought it was important to focus on figuring out customer needs rather than pushing products. We didn’t want to sell a product to a customer that they didn’t need, want or understand. So we developed a concept called ‘Regions 360,’ which was a needs-based approach to banking. We encouraged our team to work together to show the whole bank to the company – so if they have a wealth need or a business need, how do we provide that to a customer and do it in a way that’s seamless.”

Since then, the bank has grown — merging with Union Planters Bank in 2004 and acquiring AmSouth Bancorporation in 2006. Growth is an important part of the business, Turner said, but maintaining value to customers — even in the face of change — is fundamental.

“One of the challenges we face is that technology is changing at an increasing rate — how many of you have written a check in the last six months? I’ll bet not very many,” he said. “We asked ourselves how we could continue to invest in technology and at the same acknowledge that this is still about people, about providing advice and guidance for customers. Over 55 percent of our customers still come to a branch every 30 days, and yet we have customers who are increasingly using the bank in different ways — through mobile apps, call centers. How do we balance all of that?”

The answer, he said, is to reinforce the institution’s core values.

“I’d like to leave the company better than I found it. I have a desire for Regions to be thought of as a great bank. That means being good risk managers and being focused on taking care of customers,” he said. “I also think our ability to recruit, retain and motivate people is really important. We’ve done a number of things over the last nine months — increasing our starting wage, increasing our 401 (k) match, improving our family leave policy — all oriented toward investing in people.”

He counseled Terry students to stick to their values, put in the necessary hours, and find a good team. 

“My advice is to work hard and stay in the moment,” he said. “Sometimes, we get a little ahead of ourselves looking for the next opportunity. But if you’ll just work hard and work with people that you like, doing something you like, with people you think have an interest in you, you’ll be amazed at the doors that will open over time. 

“You’ll have opportunities to take shortcuts at work — don’t. You’ll have opportunities to do things that are hard and you might not do them fully or completely — don’t,” he said. “Go to work, work well others and be respectful.” 

The Terry Leadership Speaker Series presented by the Institute for Leadership Advancement brings well-known leaders from a variety of organizations to share their unique leadership styles and experiences with students.