A Year Later Huntington Revitalizes


    GRAND RAPIDS — Huntington National Bank is going through what officials refer to as a “rebirth.” That process is producing a “new” Huntington intent on building customer relationships.

    Nearly a year ago, Huntington President and CEO Thomas Hoaglin outlined a new game plan designed to bring sharper focus to customer service and core Midwest markets.

    Too much decision-making had been centralized, causing focus to shift away from serving customers and onto the corporate bureaucracy, Hoaglin said at the time.

    Huntington had not been working very well, and senior management turnover had taken a toll on the company.

    As James Dunlap, president of Huntingon National Bank-Michigan, recalled, “We were in a very different place then, some of us physically, and nearly all of us emotionally.”

    Hoaglin said that when he came to Grand Rapids in April 2001, the Huntington team members he met “were not talking about winning.”

    They are now, as was evidenced when he returned to town to report on the company’s progress and articulate the “new” Huntington vision for both Huntington associates and customers gathered Monday at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

    “What I think we have done is unleash the Huntington talent that was already there,” he said of the team’s performance over the past year.

    As part of its transformation process, over the past year Huntington sold its Florida operations, consolidated 43 banking offices in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, reduced its dividend, and strategically repositioned itself as “customer centric” and as a local bank supported by decentralized decision making.

    “As I began to get acquainted with Huntington I learned firsthand from talking to many Huntington associates that people did not feel a sense of being empowered,” Hoaglin said.

    That’s expected to change as decision-making has been pushed down to the local level. After years of decline or no growth in West Michigan, Huntington’s deposits have been “growing very nicely,” he said. Core deposits for the company were up about $1.5 billion in the last year.

    In West Michigan, at the end of March 2001, the bank’s core deposits were $1.71 billion. At the end of March 2002 they were $1.87 billion.

    “That simply was not the pattern in West Michigan,” Hoaglin pointed out. “I think you’ve shown over the last year that West Michigan can play a key role in Huntington’s growth.”

    Revenues have begun to grow, which had not been the case in the past, and expenses have been well controlled, he said. Huntington also is beginning to invest in better technology for banking associates, and the roll-out of a new customer service system in all banking offices is well underway.

    Huntington funds are doing well despite difficult market conditions, the company’s investment arm has been growing rapidly, loan originations continue to be strong, and dealer sales business has held up well, despite stiff price competition, Hoaglin noted.

    As a result, he said, the company’s financial performance is better and its stock price higher.

    Furthermore, employee retention has increased to 71 percent.

    “Our company has stopped treading water. We’re growing again,” he said. “Customers are saying regularly what a positive change they see.

    “I believe that, in general, our Huntington associates are far more engaged than they ever were before. Now what we have to do is think and act like this company is ours.”

    The company has undergone a cultural transformation, Hoaglin said.

    The thrust now is on “becoming essential partners to customers” by creating positive customer experiences and building relationships with both customers and the community, he said.

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