CEO of the Year: Large For-Profit

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From the December 2012 issue of Columbus CEO

Steve Steinour walks an average of 6,000 steps every day. “I don’t like to be in my office,” says the chairman, president and CEO of Huntington Bancshares Inc. Steinour prefers to see things for himself from every level of his organization and his adopted city. “It makes my job interesting, because now I know the people involved. And we’re in a people business.”

Each of his daily footsteps is logged on his pedometer—the same one worn by thousands of Huntington employees enrolled in the corporate wellness initiative. “We don’t ask our colleagues to do anything that we don’t do,” says Steinour.

He also wore the same Huntington-green jersey as his 1,000-plus employee-teammates in the 2012 Pelotonia bicycle ride and joins hundreds of company volunteers every school year to paint West Broad Elementary. “Do the right thing,” the new company mantra, is based on employee input gathered in a series of town hall forums Steinour hosted when he joined the company at the height of the recession.

“That’s the essence of our business model, and it’s good business. In 2009 when I arrived, I didn’t fully appreciate this legacy of being good to the community. It was not something I had seen elsewhere. This is not your standard banking model,” says Steinour, former managing partner of CrossHarbor Capital Partners, a Boston-based private equity firm.

Steinour came on board at a tough time. After its 2007 purchase of Sky Financial Group, Huntington was weighed down by $1.5 billion in subprime loans on Sky’s books. Steinour had to make tough calls to cut costs and raise capital; the bank borrowed (and repaid) $1.4 billion from the U.S. Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

These days, the balance sheet is more stable, with assets of $56 billion, third quarter 2012 profits up 17 percent from the previous year and record net quarterly income of $167.8 million. In October, Huntington announced it would add 250 jobs in Ohio over the next four years as it builds its credit card business.

In the time Steinour does spend in his 10th-floor office, he’s surrounded by the company’s Columbus legacy. Portraits of Steinour’s nine predecessors—four of them Huntingtons—adorn the hallway outside the executive boardroom, along with a mural tracing the bank’s history to its founding in 1866.

“Community is very important to us,” says Steinour, who serves on the executive committee of the Columbus Partnership and the board of the Columbus Downtown Development Corp./Capitol South Community Urban Redevelopment Corp. He says the company’s charitable initiatives “help provide a reason to feel proud of where you work. It creates a spark or a soul within the company itself.”

Under Steinour’s leadership, Huntington has gone from No. 15 to No. 3 in U.S. Small Business Administration lending nationally. In a private-public initiative, the company invested $100 million in low-income housing in Ohio through 2012. “That was an investment on our part at a tough time for us, but it made a big difference in our communities,” says Steinour.

The culture he inherited at Huntington is not the culture found in East Coast banks, Steinour says. “There’s an energy. I feel proud. Columbus is on the move, the economy in Ohio is on the move. We’re a part of that."

Reprinted from the December 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.