Your People Are Not Your Greatest Asset

How do you get a 33-fold growth rate in less than 20 years? By focusing on your greatest asset.

So what is your greatest asset? “Our people,” many organizations claim. Even if they really mean it (many don’t), it still isn’t true.

It’s not your people. It’s your leaders. If you take care of the leaders in your organization, you will take care of every other asset –
including your people… a very precious asset indeed.

In the space of some nineteen years, BB&T went from $4.5 billion in assets to $152 billion in assets… a 33-fold increase from 1989 to 2008. It happened under the watch of John Allison, who became CEO in 1989, and it happened largely through acquisition. Those acquisitions, however, were carefully vetted not only for their economic impact but also for their cultural fit: if the cultural fit was dubious, however favorable the economics, the acquisition was abandoned.

Most important of all, however, was John Allison’s conviction that successful assimilation was a leadership function. That’s why he paid particular attention to training leaders to lead the assimilation of these acquisitions.

BB&T developed a very thorough and sophisticated leadership development approach, and it was a key factor both in successful assimilation (BB&T developed the reputation as the best acquirers in the business) and in the growth of the bank itself.

In a 2011 interview, John Allison explained BB&T’s growth this way: “BB&T chooses to invest very heavily in employee education. We operate our own university… [we have] invested very heavily over a long period of time in quality leaders… If we hadn’t had really good people that we spent a long time developing, we couldn’t have done it.”

Tellingly, when he felt the bank didn’t have the leadership resources to assimilate new acquisitions, he put a hold on any acquisitions (as happened in 2004)… such was the importance attached to the critical role of leadership.

Your people, then, are not your greatest asset. Your leaders are – at every level. Does your investment in that asset reflect the true value of that asset?

That’s how you get a 33-fold increase in less than 20 years.