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VOL. 126 | NO. 35 | Monday, February 21, 2011


FTN Financial Gets Right Fit at Top With Kisber

By Andy Meek

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Whenever Bryan Jordan, the president and CEO of Memphis-based First Horizon National Corp., gives a presentation to analysts or other financial industry types, he repeatedly stresses the company’s focus on its two core businesses.


One is First Tennessee Bank, First Horizon’s banking arm that dominates the biggest banking markets across Tennessee and which is so synonymous with the state that its logo is a small piece of the Tennessee flag.

The other of the two is FTN Financial, First Horizon’s capital markets subsidiary, which has grown into an industry leader in fixed income sales, trading and strategies for institutional clients around the world.

FTN Financial encompasses capital markets, investment banking, correspondent services and strategic alliances. The company has an average daily trading volume of $7 billion, and it does business with about one-third of the banks in the U.S.

Its economists are highly respected in the industry and frequent speakers at seminars and conferences around the country. Chief economist Chris Low is a regular commentator for Bloomberg, Reuters, National Public Radio and CNBC.

Jim Vogel, who manages interest rate and derivatives market strategies for FTN Financial Capital Markets, is frequently mentioned in the financial press, and economist Lindsey Piegza is a regular on the Fox Business Network.

FTN Financial also has offices around the world, from Memphis to Philadelphia, San Francisco, Tokyo and Hong Kong. And last month, the company saw an important leadership change involving the corner office.

Mike Kisber, an executive vice president and director of fixed income capital markets for FTN Financial, officially stepped into the role of FTN Financial’s president.

He took over the job from Frank Gusmus, a First Horizon veteran who was tapped to be FTN Financial’s president in 2008. Gusmus, who began his career with First Horizon about three decades ago as a CPA, will stay on board through the leadership change and retire at the end of March.

The new president is the cousin of Matt Kisber, the state’s former commissioner of economic development who worked under former Tenn. Gov. Phil Bredesen.

There’s a story that Mike walked in for an interview at FTN Financial years ago and said it would be a worthwhile investment if the company took a chance on him – which, given his new title, would appear to have come true.

Rather than sharing personal details, Kisber prefers to talk about the organization itself, which he says was “built by some great men” who’ve left him some “big shoes to fill.”

“It’s an absolute honor to have this job, and I’m very grateful to Bryan Jordan for having the confidence in me,” said Kisber, whose tenure at FTN Financial dates back to 1993. “Frank Gusmus has also been a great mentor to me.

“My style is to lead by example. It’s about being open, communicating and treating everyone fairly. I love the people here. I love the challenge. This is a great organization. Since 1993, I get up every morning glad I have the opportunity to come to work here.”

That work has changed dramatically since his first days with the firm, the most recent example being the sweeping new regulatory environment that emerged on the back of the 2007-2008 credit meltdown.

But even amid that historic downturn, Kisber said his firm found opportunities.

“We still found liquidity in the market,” said Kisber, who preaches the mantra of an essentially “flat” organization where the right decisions can be made and executed on the fly and where everyone knows, understands and is working toward the same big picture.

Another theme he mentions early and often is the concept of a meritocracy.

“We’ve never seen anything like the current environment,” Kisber said. “The current regulatory bills go farther than any since the Great Depression. The way we navigate (the turbulence) is with the talent we have.

“We try to create an environment where everybody is top notch. Fifteen years is the average tenure here. And everybody has an equal chance. You can rise here as far as you want.”

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