SunTrust on losing end of senior bankers’ migration patterns

Monday, May 5, 2008 at 1:12am

Middle Tennessee’s fluid banking scene regularly features a good number of migrating bankers eager to settle some place new. But even by those standards, SunTrust Bank has seen a significant amount of movement of late – primarily in its healthcare practice, where a large chunk of the team has left in the last eight months.

The most recent departure is that of Bill Priester, a 10-year veteran of the bank who has accepted an offer from Tim Martin’s Ambulatory Services of America. The fast-growing company, run by a cadre of Renal Care Group vets, focuses in the dialysis, radiation oncology, and cardiovascular sectors.

At the close of last year, ASA secured a $123 million loan from GE Healthcare Financial to buy 33 dialysis clinics from a California-based provider.

Mark Mattson, a former managing director of SunTrust’s health care corporate and investment banking practice, also has packed up and moved on.

Last August, he left Atlanta-based SunTrust to join former FirstBank president Claire Tucker at the highly touted start-up CapStar Bank, which raised an eye-popping $88 million.

Another recent departure is Karen Ahern, who served as the chief credit officer for SunTrust’s Healthcare franchise. Where Ahern, who spent more than 30 years at SunTrust and its Third National predecessor, has landed is unclear.

Officials at SunTrust could not be reached for comment about the recent departures or their efforts to rebuild the bank’s health care group.

Two well-established trends – the continual consolidation of regional players and the resulting formation of new banks – have long played a role in dispersing and then reconnecting financial talent in markets like Nashville.

Start-ups like CapStar have been among the prominent beneficiaries of those shifts. In addition to Mattson, Tucker and her team have lured senior staffers from JPMorgan Chase, Regions and US Bank since the beginning of the year.

Another beneficiary has been eight-year-old Pinnacle National Bank, which in February raided First Tennessee and Regions for a team of executive relocation specialists.

What’s newer to the equation is the credit market turmoil of the past year. That maelstrom that has sent several big names – including Citicorp. and Ohio-based National City Corp. – scurrying to raise much-needed capital and is contributing to a general feeling of unease.

Eager to lend just months ago, many banks have of late tightened the reins on loan activity as well as costs in general. That is increasingly pushing experienced bankers to "explore their options."

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