WSJ_0510_Comerica

Farmer

Winston-Salem native Curtis Farmer continued his executive ascent at top-40 U.S. bank Comerica Inc. to being appointed as chairman, effective Jan. 1.

Farmer, 57, will succeed Ralph Babb Jr., who is retiring Dec. 31.

Taking on the chairman duties at the Dallas bank comes after Farmer was promoted to chief executive in April. He was named to the board of directors in July 2018 and promoted to president in 2015.

Farmer will retain the chief executive and president duties at a bank with $73 billion in total assets and about 8,000 employees as of Sept. 30. Its main markets are in Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan and Texas.

Farmer joined Comerica in 2008 as executive vice president of wealth management.

“It is fitting that during Comerica’s 170th year in business, we name a new leader who has Curt’s vision, strong management style and relationship-based approach to banking,” Babb said in a statement.

“Curt’s character, ability to be innovative and strong decision-making skills, are what is needed as Comerica begins a new era.”

Babb, a 41-year banking veteran, joined Comerica in 1995 as chief financial officer. He became vice chairman in 1999, president and chief executive in January 2002, and chairman in October 2002.

Farmer expressed his gratitude for Babb’s mentorship and praised how Babb “navigated Comerica through times of great prosperity and during challenging economic cycles with transparency, stewardship and integrity.”

Farmer graduated from Reynolds High School and earned both his bachelor’s and master’s of business administration degrees from Wake Forest University.

There remains a significant local connection for Farmer. His mother, Janice, lives in Winston-Salem, and a daughter, Allison, is a graduate of Wake Forest. Farmer is in his second four-year term on the university’s board of trustees.

Comerica’s diverse footprint covers seven of the 10 largest cities in the United States, plus several just outside the top 10.

Farmer joined Comerica’s wealth management division after being about as homegrown as a Winston-Salem banking employee and executive could be.

Farmer worked for 23 years with Wachovia Corp., including in Winston-Salem from 1985 to 1996 and from 2004 to 2008. He spent three years as an executive vice president and director of the wealth management division.

Farmer began his job at Comerica 11 days after Wells Fargo & Co. emerged as the acquisition winner over Citigroup for the collapsing Wachovia.

Tony Plath, a retired finance professor at UNC Charlotte, said Farmer and Comerica face “some interesting challenges in the industry.”

“At $73 billion, they’re big enough to compete with the big regional banks, like Huntington and Regions, but still small enough to run below the radar of the really big industry players in the South like the combined BB&T-SunTrust, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.”

“They need an improved strategy for more aggressive growth in their key southern markets, and many of these markets will place them in head-to-head competition with the combined BB&T-SunTrust in going after middle-market commercial-loan customers and the commercial/retail deposits of successful owner-managed family businesses.”

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rcraver@wsjournal.com

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