BB&T CEO Allison offers business, personal advice at UNCP


John Allison, chairman and chief executive officer of BB&T, brought his recipe for business and personal success to The University of North Carolina at Pembroke in a lecture October 30.


John Allison (center) speaks with students.

Allison spoke to a crowd of more than 250 in Moore Hall Auditorium as part of UNCP’s Distinguished Executive Speaker Series sponsored by the School of Business.

Clearly, Allison, 57, knows about success. In 17 years at BB&T’s helm, he took a relatively obscure regional bank and turned it into the nation’s 9th largest financial holding company with more than $118.5 billion in total assets.

“My purpose today is to discuss the relationship between leadership and values,” Allison said. “This is a practical means to success and happiness.”

Allison has laid out his philosophy in a 10-step plan called “The BB&T Philosophy,” which was distributed to everyone in the audience. He told the many students in the audience the time is right to talk about values and philosophy.

john_allison_2.jpg“We have a crisis in values in our society today,” he said. “Most people have a hodgepodge of values and contradictory beliefs.”

Most people do not fail for lack of intelligence, but because they evade reality, Allison said.

“IQ is not everything,” he said. “One of the most fundamental successful traits in business is to evade less and stay in focus more.”

Mixed with philosophy, Allison offered some earthy and, perhaps, hard-earned wisdom to live by in and out of the corporate boardroom.

  • “We must be responsible for meaning what we say and knowing what we mean.
  • “High performers have a different mindset. They are focused on success, not reasons for failure.
  •  “A lot of management is about judging and evaluating others.
  • “You need to have passion. It’s really more about beating reality than beating the other guy.
  • “Focusing on results is a useless exercise. Change behavior. Results follow from behaviors.
  • “Are CEOs paid too much? I think that’s the wrong question. People at the top are worth a lot of money in a global marketplace with seven billion people in it. Some are overpaid, but that’s because they under perform.
  • “Reject egalitarianism. What they want is equal outcomes. We are not equal.
  • “If you give someone too high a grade for their work, that’s an injustice because you are misleading them. Failing to deal with non-performance is an injustice.
  • “Emotions are learned. We should train our emotions to help us achieve success and happiness.
  • “Life is a constant education, and there are constant opportunities to learn.
  • “Successful people never got there by taking advantage of others. Life is about creating win-win relationships.
  • ”I agree with (Thomas) Jefferson that each of us has a moral right to the pursuit of happiness. We have the moral right to be happy and the right to believe we can do good things.
  • “The chronic mistake of successful people is that they don’t feel as good about themselves as they have an objective right to.
  • “I’m not an expert in romantic love. If you are looking for someone to make you happy, you will fail. If you are looking for someone to share your happiness with, you will succeed.

A North Carolina native, Allison joined BB&T in 1971 in Wilson, N.C., and managed in a variety of areas throughout the bank.

“When I started in banking, we loaned a lot of money to farmers. I realized early on that I was not going to be a good old boy, so I focused on helping farmers make better decisions.”

It worked, he said. He became president in 1987 and was elected chairman and CEO in July of 1989. The bank merged with several other North Carolina banks including Southern National and United Carolina Bank, both founded in Southeastern North Carolina.

As of Dec. 31, 2005, BB&T operates more than 1,450 branch offices in the Carolinas, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, Maryland, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Indiana, and Washington, D.C.

Allison received aBachelor of Science degree in business administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from Duke University.

For more information about the speaking engagement, please contact the School of Business at 910.521.6214 or email