Former BB&T Executive Opens Free Enterprise Lecture Series

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Capitalism is moral.

Retired bank executive John Allison set the tone for the BB&T Lectures in Free Enterprise Series at the University of West Georgia in brief remarks during a reception at the start of the series Tuesday night.

Retired bank executive John Allison set the tone for the BB&T Lectures in Free Enterprise Series at the University of West Georgia in brief remarks during a reception at the start of the series Tuesday night. “Most people realize that capitalism and free markets produce a higher standard of living,” said Allison, the former chairman and CEO of BB&T.

“But most people also think that capitalism is a system that’s at best amoral. Many people think it’s immoral. We don’t think that a system that is immoral could be successful. Capitalism is a moral system,” he said.

“There are immoral capitalists,” Allison added.

Last year the Richards College of Business received a $1million gift from BB&T to establish the Center for Ethics and Free Enterprise and the BB&T Lectures on Free Enterprise Series. The gift is the largest in the history of Richards College.

Since the announcement of the gift, two courses have been developed at the undergraduate and graduate level. The courses are entitled the Ethical Foundations of Capitalism. The undergraduate course is being taught this semester, the graduate course next semester.

Allison’s lecture focused on developing moral leadership.

“Leadership matters,” Allison told a rapt audience of about 500 at the start of his lecture in the Coliseum.

Developing good business leaders begins with the individual, he said.

“We all have to lead ourselves. We have to create the kind of person we want to be. Most failures of leadership are failures of self leadership.”

Recent business scandals and bank failures, at their root, began with leaders who lacked the courage to go against what everyone else in the market was doing, he said. 

During the lecture Allison enumerated the BB&T values: reality (what is, is); reason; independent thinking; productivity; honesty; integrity; justice; pride; self-esteem; and teamwork.

Doing the right thing – helping clients be successful and helping employees improve – ultimately make the world a better place, he said.

The pursuit of happiness, which is at the very core of the American system, remains a fundamental right, he said.

Happiness is  “having a life well-lived. A hard-earned happiness, a hard-worked happiness.”

Money, however, is not the end, only the means.

“The end is happiness and the foundation for happiness is self-esteem,” he said.

Allison retired as CEO of BB&T at the end of 2008. A year later he retired as chairman.

He started his career with BB&T in 1971. He became president of BB&T in 1987 and was elected Chairman and CEO in July 1989.  During Mr. Allison’s tenure as CEO from 1989 to 2008, BB&T grew from $4.5 billion to $152 billion in assets. In March 2009, he joined the faculty of Wake Forest University School of Business as Distinguished Professor of Practice.