ugh McColl began as a small-town banker in the early 1960s and — long story short — created Bank of America, headquartered in Charlotte. More than anyone else, McColl, today the co-founder and chairman emeritus of Falfurrias Capital Partners, is why Charlotte is the banking capital of the South. But the Hugh McColl story, and McColl’s hand in shaping Charlotte, far eclipses banking. Now 88, McColl remains the essence of a mover and shaker. He spoke with Site Selection on September 20th between his morning workout and a lunchtime speech.
“... When an ox gets in a ditch, we can get a group together that can get it out. It’s a cultural thing.”
— Hugh McColl, former Bank of America CEO, Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Falfurrias Capital Partners
Site Selection: Around Charlotte, Hugh McColl is roundly considered to be a visionary, “the man who built Charlotte” and turned a medium-sized town into a metropolis. Are you comfortable with those descriptions?
Hugh McColl: It really goes back to about 1974. I was trying to build a big banking company, and I couldn’t do that without talent. Back then we were a boring little town that had a lot of churches. No whiskey by the drink. You couldn’t dance to live music. And I’m trying to hire people from New York and San Francisco and Hong Kong and London. So, it made me get interested in developing our city and making it a more fun place to be. And we got there. Today, you can’t find another city in America that has pro football, pro basketball, pro baseball, opera, symphony and ballet all inside of a four-square mile area. Not one.
Bigger and busier does not always equate to better. How has Charlotte managed its growth differently than other cities in the Southeast?
McColl: One thing Charlotte does, which is really rare for a big city, is that we still can come together as if we are a small town and make it happen. That’s really been our secret, and I don’t know what accounts for it. But when an ox gets in a ditch, we can get a group together that can get it out. It’s a cultural thing. And if you’re running a company here you learn pretty quickly that’s how it works.
You told me that you like to surround yourself with young people. Do you sense Charlotte getting younger?
McColl: Oh, yes. Much younger. We have sections of the city that are very attractive to young people. They have their entertainment, bars and nightlife right where they’re living. And they can ride the train and not necessarily need a car to get to work. Rail has been eminently successful. We just need more of it.
The question everyone wants me to ask is, “Where does Hugh McColl see Charlotte going over the next two decades?”
McColl: It will continue to grow. It will grow to the west, which has historically been more of an industrial area, and it will grow north toward the university area. Infrastructure, education and housing will continue to challenge us. But we’ll continue to grow and will become more and more a tech center because of our ability to attract young people and foreigners who are highly tech-educated. We’re all from somewhere else. I’m from South Carolina. Our goal is to continue to bring in smart people and attract businesses from around the world.”