When John Allison joined Branch Banking and Trust, also known as BB&T, he said it was "a small country bank" with $275 million in assets.
Today, the bank has $152 billion in assets and is one of the country's 10 largest, and its holding company, BB&T Corp., is not far behind.
Allison was the first speaker at Thursday's Wichita Area Economic Outlook Conference.
He was brought here by Koch Industries, a sponsor of the conference. He called Koch chairman and CEO Charles Koch "one of the great defenders of liberty."
During his speech he said the banking industry was and remains overregulated.
While policymakers and top regulators say they are encouraging banks like his to increase their lending, "at the operating level we're being swarmed by local examiners who are tightening lending standards.
"We're not making loans that we probably should," he said
In an interview after his speech, Allison, who retires as chairman of BB&T on Dec. 31, said the company benefited from its North Carolina location.
So did its in-state and national competitors, Bank of America and Wachovia, now Wells Fargo.
He said the state's banking laws permitted intrastate branching when many other states didn't.
"So banks developed the skill set" to operate branch networks far earlier than competitors in other Southeast states, Allison said.
Winston-Salem-based BB&T operates a network of 1,500 branches and insurance offices in 12 states.
Between 1989 and now, the company has acquired 60 banks and savings and loans.
Allison said BB&T has been successful in integrating them because it focuses on the employees of the banks it is acquiring and has a systematic approach to merging the operations of another bank into BB&T.
"We've got the thousand steps to acquiring a bank," he said.
The bank also evaluates the integration process after each bank acquisition because "every time you do one you learn from it," he said.
He also added: "Generally speaking, we didn't acquire problem banks."
After nearly 40 years in banking, Allison said he loves his work and working with BB&T employees.
Those employees, he said, are a big reason why the company has grown like it has.
He said the bank emphasizes employee training through its BB&T University, requiring each of them to get certified in whatever job they are doing for the bank.
He said BB&T spends more money on employee training and less on marketing than his competitors.
The theory is a better-trained employee will lead to more positive results when they are working with the bank's clients. The clients, in turn, will share that positive experience with others who are potential BB&T clients, Allison said.