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The Problem with 99 Percent Honesty

Sep 27, 2017

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BB&T CEO King

SMITH BRAIN TRUST — Call him old school, but BB&T Chairman and CEO Kelly S. King believes in absolutes. “You should be absolutely 100 percent honest,” he told faculty, staff and students on Sept. 26, 2017, at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “There are a lot of people in academia who will disagree with that, who will say there are no absolutes. They will tell you there is nothing that is really objective. It’s all relative.”

King said people who accept that way of thinking should try telling their significant others that they are committed to 99 percent honesty. “If you’re not honest with me 1 percent of the time, how can I completely trust you?” he said. “And If I can’t completely trust you, how can I depend on you? And if I can’t depend on you, how can we have a mutually supportive relationship?”

King said BB&T has 10 absolute values, starting with honesty. “We not only hang them on the wall,” he said. “We live by them.”

Once a person commits to a set of values, the next step is consistency. A person can’t be 100 percent honest Monday through Friday and take the weekend off. “That doesn’t work,” King said. “Integrity is about living all of your values consistently.”

King, the featured guest at the Smith School’s BB&T Colloquium on Capitalism, Ethics and Leadership, said his bank faced a test in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. “The world was collapsing around us,” he said. “When you’re going through a critical period of time, you will find that you are tested and you are challenged, and there will be temptations to take shortcuts.”

He said BB&T had to rethink its strategy and place more emphasis on day-to-day  execution, but corporate values stayed the same. “It’s important to know what your priorities are, and live your priorities,” he said. “Because if you don’t, you end up losing your sense of direction and your sense of purpose.”

Smith School professor Rajshree Agarwal, director of the school’s Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets, moderated the discussion. The annual colloquium is supported by a $1.5 million gift from BB&T in 2010.

Other topics covered by King:

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.