Originally created 04/14/02

At the helm



Paul Menk has been connected to Augusta's biggest bank in one way or another for most of his life.

As a child, when Georgia Railroad Bank & Trust was at the top of the heap, the connection was a passbook savings account. His father, Peter, also served on the bank's board of directors.

As a young professional, years after Georgia Railroad was acquired by First Union, Mr. Menk worked in the bank's commercial lending department. He left the company for more than a decade but came back to take the job as city president in 2000.

It's a position the 42-year-old Augustan retained even as First Union merged with Wachovia Corp. and adopted the more prestigious name of its merger partner. The deal created the nation's fourth-largest bank and put Mr. Menk in control of the Augusta-Aiken market's network of 21 branches and $1 billion in deposits.

"It made good sense," Mr. Menk said of the merger. "The bank is dominant in nearly every one of its markets, including this one."

But as Wachovia's chief local salesman, Mr. Menk's job is to ensure that the bank stays dominant. Drumming up new business is not easy in a market rife with competition from rival regional banks, an increasing number of brokerage firms and fast-growing community banks.

Many First Union and Wachovia systems still have to be connected, so the bank's immediate focus is making sure the transition is smooth so as not to lose any customers, as First Union did during its 1998 merger with CoreStates Financial Corp.

Mr. Menk said he has seen a dramatic improvement in customer service in the two years since he rejoined the bank, which, as First Union, was known for its highly centralized power structure.

"After having gone through a lot of acquisitions, I think we as a company recognized that we had taken our eye off the ball," he said. "The company has recognized that and pushed some control back out (to individual markets)."

With the $14 billion merger in full swing, Wachovia Corp. is going through extraordinary times. Fortunately, Mr. Menk isn't an ordinary banker.

He graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in industrial management. In his first job out of college he worked with large corporations to create COBOL-based computer systems. His employer: Arthur Andersen Consulting.

"If you would have told me a year ago that this would be happening, I would have said you were crazy," Mr. Menk said of now-beleagured Arthur Andersen, which has imploded in recent weeks because of its role in the Enron debacle.

Mr. Menk didn't stay very long with the firm's Atlanta office, which is now part of Accenture Ltd., because he knew the constant travel would strain his relationship with his fiancee, Tandy, whom he would later marry.

"There were 12 partners in my office - 10 of them were divorced," Mr. Menk said. "There was a reason for that."

Mr. Menk moved back to Augusta in 1984. The self-described numbers whiz ("I'm kind of an analytical person," he says) found work for Bankers First Corp. (now SouthTrust Bank) as a credit underwriter and commercial loan officer. When he moved over to First Union's commercial division four years later, he began working closely with one of the bank's biggest local accounts, Boardman Petroleum.

When Boardman's chief financial officer left in 1989, company president Clay Boardman asked Mr. Menk to fill the position and help run the company's growing Smile Gas convenience-store chain.

Mr. Menk stayed with Boardman for 11 years, a period of rapid growth and transition from a paper-intensive ledger system to a fully automated operation.

"All of that was a lot of fun," Mr. Menk said. "I think we went from 40 stores to 75 during that time frame."

The wild ride ended in 2000, after Boardman decided to sell the chain to Circle K owner Tosco Corp. But Mr. Menk wasn't without work for long.

He received a call from First Union's Atlanta market president, Hugh Long, whom Mr. Menk worked for during Mr. Long's career in Augusta. The executive asked Mr. Menk if he would like to come back to the bank, this time to fill the position of market president vacated by the retirement of Charlie Rivers.

First Union publicly announced that Mr. Menk would become its new Augusta market leader on July 7, 2000.

"I'm living proof that you should never burn your bridges," he said.

PROFILE

Name: Paul T. Menk

Title: Wachovia Corp. Augusta market president

Born: Sept. 28, 1959, Augusta

Education: Georgia Tech, bachelor's degree in industrial management

Family: Wife, Tandy, three children

Civic: Augusta Kiwanis Club, member; University Hospital Foundation, board member; Augusta Museum of History, board member; Augusta Red Cross, board member

Favorite hobby: Golfing (member of Augusta Country Club)

Anecdote: As a teen, Mr. Menk worked summers for his father's mechanical contracting firm, the Menk Co. While checking his savings account balance at Georgia Railroad Bank & Trust one day, he recalled how the clerk mistakenly pulled up his father's account.

"I thought, 'This summer job is working out better than I expected.' Then I said, 'I'll take it all in $10s and $20s.' "

The teller realized the mistake before completing the transaction.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or dcline@augustachronicle.com