There's no denying the fact that a good chief executive can make or break a bank. A textbook-worthy example of this is Ken Lewis, the former head of Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) who nearly bankrupted the nation's second largest lender by assets through the now-infamous acquisitions of Countrywide Financial and Merrill Lynch. In our special premium reports on key banks in the industry, we look at management as a component of success or, in some cases, failure. This is an excerpt from our in-depth report on Huntington Bancshares (NASDAQ:HBAN).
While not on the same scale as Bank of America's disaster, Huntington faced an analogous threat to its mortality during the financial crisis. It reported massive losses in 2008 and 2009, prompting the federal government to intervene by means of the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Its loan loss provisions swelled from an average of $67 million a year in 2004-2006 to over $1 billion in 2008, and $2 billion in 2009. And in the first quarter of the latter year, the bank recorded a $2.6 billion goodwill impairment related to an ill-fated acquisition completed on the eve of the crisis.
But as Albert Einstein famously said, "In the middle of every difficulty comes opportunity." In this case, the opportunity for Huntington came in the form of Stephen Steinour, its chairman and CEO who assumed the reins at the depth of the crisis in 2009. Quite simply, Steinour couldn't be better suited for the job of leading a bank like Huntington. As I noted above, he's credited with growing Citizens Financial, a unit of the Royal Bank of Scotland (NYSE:RBS), from a $5 billion regional lender into a leading commercial banking operation with 1,600 branches in 13 states and assets at the time of $160 billion.
Steinour grew Citizens using many of the same tactics that he's now implementing at Huntington. Through the Optimal Customer Relationship initiative, he's focused Huntington's staff on the core fundamentals of traditional banking. According to its most recent quarterly filing:
Our general business objectives are: (1) Grow net interest income and fee income; (2) Increase cross-sell and share-of-wallet across all business segments; (3) Improve efficiency ratio; (4) Continue to strengthen risk management, including sustained improvement in credit metrics; and (5) Maintain strong capital and liquidity positions.
He's also initiated an extensive advertising campaign, entering into sponsorship agreements with both the NFL's Detroit Lions and Michigan State University. By comparison, under his direction in 2003, Citizens purchased the naming rights to Citizens Bank Park, the home of the MLB's Philadelphia Phillies.
With this in mind, it's of little surprise that Huntington has experienced a remarkable turnaround since Steinour took control. Among other things, its annual provision for loan losses fell to a comparatively modest $174 million in 2011. It repaid its TARP funds at the end of 2010 -- albeit by issuing new common stock. And, most importantly, it's expanded and deepened its relationships with customers, adding over 240,000 households since the middle of 2010 and growing the proportion of those that use four or more of its products to 76%, a three percentage point increase over the same time in 2011.
John Maxfield owns shares of Bank of America. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America and Huntington Bancshares. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.