SunTrust co-chief operating officer finds success in disruption, spreading knowledge

April 2018

Jay Murdock

Long before he became a co-chief operating officer at SunTrust Banks Inc., Hugh “Beau” Cummins was a Miami University student who never thought he would work in a bank.

“I had no intention of being a banker when I was sitting where you are now,” he told students and faculty at the Executive Speaker Series event Thursday evening. “Didn’t know what a banker was, didn’t know what a banker did. Seemed kind of boring to me.”

Cummins spent a few years at Ford, but found that while designing and building cars was cool, the tasks he was given to promote the cars weren’t nearly as cool.

It was in graduate school that he discovered what banking was about, and why he wanted to be a banker.

“In banking, you are the product, not the car, because when you show up in front of a client, it’s your intellectual capital that is the product,” Cummins noted. “Suddenly, you’re the product that’s super-cool.”

He worked at Citibank and Bank of America before joining SunTrust in 2005, climbing the corporate ladder to his current position.

“I’m in charge of culture and strategy. I create the conditions for success, and get out of the way,” Cummins explained.

Cummins has helped SunTrust evolve from a traditional regional bank to one that straddles the line between broad platform financial companies and middle market-targeted firms, bringing big-company resources to help smaller clients and striving to keep clients’ needs ahead of all others.

“When we say we’re client-first, that’s that. ‘I don’t care about anything else, let’s do the right thing for the client and deliver on that,’” he said.

If that concept seems somewhat unusual in financial circles, that's fine with Cummins.

“Disruption is the way of the future. The word ‘change,’ I don’t think, even captures it anymore,” he remarked.

Cummins said SunTrust has also taken on the role of helping customers be stronger in their financial knowledge with initiatives such as, a free online financial tool.

“We want to help drive financial education in America, and by doing so, help people reach financial confidence,” he said.

Cummins said that students looking for a role in financial services would do well to stay on top of the news, both financial and general.

“It pays to be intellectually curious and to see the big picture. To a prospective employer, it looks like intelligence on display, and we like to hire smart people,” he pointed out.

Staying curious and understanding the actions that other people have taken previously is valuable knowledge for any student, he said.

“You can learn from the mistakes of others, and the great decisions of others, or you can stumble around in the school of hard knocks,” Cummins said. “I submit the former is advantageous.”

Beau Cummins Beau Cummins speaks to students after his talk