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VOL. 133 | NO. 144 | Friday, July 20, 2018

Following Merger, First Tennessee Executive Encourages Memphians to Embrace Change

Anna Cox Thompson

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Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.

Sometimes, your career chooses you. For Darin Johnson, he always knew he wanted to combine his love of numbers and people. “Since I was a kid, I’ve loved numbers,” Johnson said. “In fact, we didn’t have voicemail when I was a kid, so I would memorize everyone who would call and all of their numbers."

"In banking, we learn to use numbers to help businesses or people. Whether it’s consumer lending or business lending, we’re using those numbers to figure out how to get you a depository account, get you a loan, and get you an investment. I’m taking that love of math and applying it to the business to help people. I have a passion for helping people - whether it’s in the back office or the front office.”

Johnson is senior vice president and credit risk manager of Government Guaranteed Lending & CRA at First Tennessee Bank. Johnson made Memphis his home roughly four years ago, but he joined First Tennessee in 2010. In fact, First Tennessee is the smallest bank he’s ever worked at, which speaks volumes of his experience in the field.

Darin Johnson


“I started my career with First Tennessee in Nashville. I started a group called the Centralized Commercial Underwriting Utility, ‘C2U2’ for short. We love acronyms,” he said with a laugh. “We wanted to centralize smaller commercial lending in a way that allowed us to be consistent. I really enjoyed starting that because I’d done it at other banks. [When] I came to Memphis I kept that business, but expanded and took on other assignments as well. In my current position, my team deals with anything loan administration-wise for commercial lending, from underwriting smaller credits or closing the bigger credits, we handle all of that.”

Johnson’s role has seen some new and interesting challenges in 2018. In November 2017, First Tennessee Bank’s parent company First Horizon National Corp. completed a merger with North Carolina-based Capital Bank Financial Corp., the largest merger in First Horizon’s history.

Johnson said every project he’s had in the last year has involved the merger in some way.

“It’s exciting because it’s different,” he said. “The mergers in the past have been a little smaller and easier to absorb more quickly. This was about a $10 billion merger, which was a third of our size at the time. It is a lot more complicated. It made me find skillsets I didn’t know I had. I learned a lot, bumped my head a little, but we made it.”

While First Tennessee doesn’t seem like a small-town bank, Johnson said, the focus on customer service is homegrown.

“All banks basically do the same thing; the only thing that’s different is how we go about doing our business,” he said. “This bank is really laser-focused on the customer. With this merger, sure we’re going to be a bigger bank, but we still want to give that hometown feel in our delivery. That is a must, and that tone is set from the top — from [CEO] Bryan Jordan and [president and COO] David Popwell on down. We will deliver superior customer service — whether they’re internal customers or traditional customers. We should be focused on meeting your needs and the needs of the community. That’s what I really love about this bank, the community involvement.”

No stranger to getting involved himself, earlier this year, Johnson was named the Chair of the Advisory Board for The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change. Johnson jokes he stumbled into the opportunity after attending their gala and was so moved by the cause he knew he had to be a part of it.

“There’s a lot of work happening with our primary program there, the Hooks African American Male Initiative. It focuses on retaining and graduating African American males from the University of Memphis,” Johnson said. “We recently had our first graduate with more to follow. We’re excited about that and how it will continue to develop.”

His advice for those looking to be successful both in business and in life is something he says is modeled by his two daughters daily.

“Embrace change. It’s the only constant,” Johnson said. “If we’re thinking that what got us to this moment today will get you where you want to be tomorrow, you’re wrong. If you embrace change, you’ll get there. If not, you’ll get left behind. This city is going through change, slowly. We’re marching toward greatness, and it’s not that far away. If you want to be part of the solution, you have to embrace it. It’s coming, and it’ll pass you by if you’re not careful.”

Darin Johnson is a graduate of New Memphis’ Leadership Development Intensive (LDI) program. Learn more at newmemphis.org.

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