One Customer at a Time

Holt Chetwood succeeds with human connections

As the Wells Fargo market president for the Midlands, Holt Chetwood oversees business banking for Wells Fargo regionally, with responsibilities for the Midlands, Pee Dee and Grand Strand.

Photography by Robert Clark

 Holt Chetwood loves being a banker, but it’s not the numbers or spreadsheets that he gets excited about. For him, the best part of his twin roles at Wells Fargo is about getting to know customers and, in many cases, the businesses they run.

Holt oversees business banking for Wells Fargo regionally, with responsibilities for the Midlands, Pee Dee and Grand Strand. That means learning about business leaders at many companies throughout South Carolina. 

To give them banking services that are the right fit for their needs, it’s best to get to know their business, their competition and their challenges. Other important factors that Holt learns from business leaders include their tolerance for risk and plans for the future. 

“That’s the best part of the job,” he says. “It’s having a conversation, understanding what they want to do and what they’re trying to do.”

When Holt works to help a company, he says he can work closely with its leadership. Frequently the top executive is someone who has built their own firm into a sizable operation that is ready to take the next step. These entrepreneurs often have different kinds of personalities, he says, but one major factor in common: “They find a way to be successful.”

He’s been in banking for 19 years, working for Wachovia before it became part of Wells Fargo. He says he entered the business to be involved in meeting with community members and counsel them on their financial needs, and that’s still what he likes. “I’d rather be in the marketplace all day meeting with folks versus being behind a desk.” 

In addition to overseeing business banking, Holt is the market president for the Midlands. That keeps him in touch with the many lines of business that Wells Fargo conducts in the area. He’s not in the day-to-day management of the retail banking or wealth management sections of the bank, but he’s regularly involved in reviewing the success of those activities around Columbia and coordinating efforts to increase business when opportunities arise.

Holt sees this role as ensuring that the different teams in an organization — that do as much as Wells Fargo teams do — are on the same page and that the organization is doing everything it can in the Midlands. He emphasizes that as the Midlands president, he’s just doing his role as part of a very large team. “No one line of business can do the job by itself,” Holt says. “We’re all Wells Fargo.”

Banking is built on trust, and that trust has to be earned and kept. “It’s built one interaction at a time,” he says. “Relationships aren’t built in a day.”

One role that he helps Wells Fargo play in the community is that of charitable benefactor, and it’s a large one. Wells Fargo was responsible for $3.8 million in charity across South Carolina in 2015, including grants, campaigns such as the United Way and participation in civic organizations. For the Midlands, that meant $1 million in charitable giving.

Wells Fargo’s charitable efforts focus on such areas as youth literacy, including support for the Midlands Reading Consortium, and affordable housing through Habitat for Humanity and other efforts. The bank was also quick to support flood relief efforts in 2015.

When he’s not at the bank, Holt and Marni, his wife, have their hands full with four kids between the ages of 4 and 13, two boys and two girls. Weekends are so busy that he and Marni sometimes look at each other and wonder how they got into so many commitments. There’s soccer and dance, cheerleading, football and baseball. When it’s basketball, he acts as coach for two different basketball teams. It takes up most of his free time, but he wouldn’t change it.

“It’s what I do,” he says with a smile. “I get one chance to do it right. There are no do-overs in parenting.” 

Holt says he loves golf, or remembers loving it back before he had four kids underfoot. On a few fall weekends, he manages to get back to his alma mater, Clemson, to watch a football game.

He also spends a lot of his own time in philanthropic roles in the community. Holt is the board chairman for the United Way of the Midlands, on the executive committee for the St. Lawrence Place shelter and anti-homelessness program, on the board for South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities and part of the executive committee of the Columbia Chamber. 

Holt sees the chamber’s role in Columbia at this time as very important as the community grows more rapidly. “In such a government-heavy town, it’s vital that the chamber be a respected voice for businesses on many issues,” he says. “Sometimes that is best done in public, but often that means being connected with community leaders behind the scenes.” He sees the chamber’s role as helping disparate parts of the community find common ground.

One long-term issue that he believes the chamber must continue to work on: a better business climate and more balanced approach to taxation. Columbia is a stable economy thanks to such institutions as government, the colleges and universities and Fort Jackson, he notes, but since none of these entities pay property taxes, a major burden is shifted onto businesses. He believes that the chamber must continue to be a long-term advocate for alleviating what he calls a disproportionate tax burden, in large part by being an advocate for policies that encourage the growth of private enterprise in the city.

“Business has carried a disproportionate share of that tax burden,” Holt says. “It took us decades to get here and it’s going to take decades to make it better than it is.”

In fall 2013, Holt had just started his year as chairman of the chamber’s executive committee when chamber CEO Ike McLeese fell ill. Ike’s successor, Carl Blackstone, gives Holt enormous credit for the leadership he showed at that time. “With Ike stricken and out of the office, Holt took on much of the chamber’s leadership burden in addition to his own work at Wells Fargo,” Carl notes. He never could have expected that burden when he agreed to be board chairman, which usually is less taxing from day-to-day than CEO. 

“He did a great job of holding the place together when Ike had his heart attack,” Carl says. 

Holt praises the chamber staff for doing outstanding work during that time and notes that the loss of Ike was particularly hard for folks because he had been so integral in the community for so long. “The chamber staff did a tremendous job during a time of change and sadness,” Holt says.

After Ike’s death, Holt was chair of the committee that eventually hired Carl to take over. Carl had never worked for a local organization like the chamber, but he was persuaded that it was an organization with the credibility to be effective and the opportunity to affect the community positively as Columbia grew. 

Holt continues to be a valuable leader and an active member of the chamber’s board. Carl praises Holt for having a grasp of the big picture issues that affect the region and a commitment to the community as connected to his leadership position at Wells Fargo. “He fully accepts the responsibility as a leader in this community,” he says. 

In recent decades, bank executives have played major roles as leaders for many civic endeavors in Columbia. That role might have receded a little bit as mergers and acquisitions have sharply reduced the number of banks headquartered here. “You still see a lot of representation from the banks in the community,” Holt says. “We all tend to get along very well.”

Despite the direct competition, bankers tend to act like teammates when together in a civic endeavor. One reason: bankers have often worked together at some point in the past, including former colleagues of Holt’s who now work at different banks around the Midlands. 

“As bankers we get along extremely well –– we work together on a number of things,” he says.

To Holt, it’s vitally important for banking leaders to step up and be leaders in community improvement efforts because the success of their business is linked directly to the community’s prosperity. It’s both good citizenship and good business to be a voice for community improvement. 

“There’s never been a successful bank in an unsuccessful community,” Holt says.