Hugh Lane, Jr. is a fourth-generation banker and a native Charlestonian. He speaks with the honey-tongued accent with Southern refinement, thus there is no mistaking his birthplace. He is just as much at home in the outdoors as he is ensconced in a banking office. An avid duck hunter and fisherman, he has also served as a member of the advisory committee for the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve System and chair of the Charleston County Conservation Bank board.
“I would say one of my major accomplishments through my work with the ACE Basin is the fact that we protected 220,000 acres of land to the point that we’ve created another national treasure,” Hugh says. Another example of Hugh’s lifelong commitment to conservation is his service as a trustee for The Belle W. Baruch Foundation, a non-profit and owner of the 16,000-acre wildlife refuge Hobcaw Barony which was made as a royal land grant in 1718.
“I grew up in a wonderful family environment that was based on honesty, and integrity and commitment. Our parents really drilled us that we have an obligation to try to make communities where we live better places,” Hugh says.
There is little doubt that Hugh was born to be a banker. “My great-grandfather was a merchant in Valdosta, Ga. and as the Civil War was ending, he realized Confederate currency would have no value at all. He bought all the cotton crop he could buy. Cotton prices were cheap because there wasn’t any use for it. When the war ended, prices soared. He started a bank.”
Hugh began his own banking career in 1972 at Citizens & Southern National Bank of Georgia in Atlanta. In 1973, he accepted a position with Chemical Bank, New York in the Bond, Leasing and International Departments. In 1974, he returned to South Carolina to accept a position with C&S Bank of South Carolina as city executive of the Sumter office. He served on the C&S Bank board for 14 years. In 1976, Hugh returned to his hometown of Charleston to serve as executive vice president, heading the C&S Bank’s Southern Region Credit, overseeing 300 employees. In 1986, when the C&S Bank of South Carolina was acquired by C&S Bank of Georgia, Hugh resigned to head a group of local business and community leaders and organized The Bank of South Carolina. He held the office of president and CEO until April 2012, when he assumed the role of chairman of the board.
Hugh calls the C&S merger the biggest career challenge he’s ever faced. “I wouldn’t necessarily call it an obstacle, but it was something I had to think about. It was a lifestyle decision, too, because everything I was involved in was in Charleston. I had some deep roots here, and it just seemed like a wonderful opportunity to start this bank, which we did.”
The other thing Hugh’s ancestor did with the proceeds of the cotton sale, besides start a family business that has lasted for four generations, was go to New York and hire a schoolteacher for Valdosta. “He realized the South would have no future without educated young people with skills,” Hugh says. Education remains one of Hugh’s passions. He served as a trustee and chairman of the board at Wofford College, trustee and past chairman on the Ashley Hall Board of Directors, trustee and past chairman of the South Carolina Independent Colleges & Universities, and member of the Advisory Committee for the Storm Eye Institute of the Medical University of South Carolina.
Hugh is also the recipient of honorary doctorates from Charleston Southern University and The Citadel. He was the 1997 recipient of the Distinguished Citizen Award from Wofford College National Alumni Council, as well as the 1997 recipient of the Avery Citizenship Award for outstanding community service, presented by the Avery Research Center.
For his own education, Hugh attended the prestigious Choate School in Wallingford, Conn. In 1970, he earned a B.A. in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. Upon graduation, he entered the U. S. Navy with the rank of ensign, and after an honorable discharge, he began his banking career at C&S National Bank in Atlanta.
“One of the things I believe the military does well is that you work in a structure and you learn your leadership skills. You get out of college, and you’ve never really managed a thing. Suddenly you’re standing in front of a squad, and you’ve got to lead,” Hugh says.
Today, he has leadership skills in abundance. He feels fortunate to have had some tall shoulders upon which to stand, outstanding mentors and role models. “There are so many, I’m scared I’m going to leave somebody out, but it starts off with the environment I was raised in and some of the great teachers I had along the way in both prep school and college.” Hugh says he often tells his children what people remember about their education is the teachers who really challenged them, made them think and taught them focus.
“Certainly when I started my banking career, the two mentors I would put at the top of my list are my father, my uncle and people like Julius Burgess, Bob Royal and Louis Koester who were enormous role models for me and also taught me a lot about the detail of banking.”
Another one of Hugh’s mentors is a man named Jeff Ketchum whom he worked with at Chemical Bank. “He really taught me the ins-and-outs of the buyer market, which has been invaluable. This is just trivia, but his uncle was the Ketchum who did the Dennis the Menace cartoon.”
Hugh’s induction into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame is just the latest accolade for this exceptional South Carolinian. In 2013, Ashley Hall named him the recipient of its inaugural Mary Vardrine McBee Philanthropy Award, given in honor of Miss Mary Vardrine McBee who founded Ashley Hall School in 1909. In 2004, the Chamber of Commerce presented him with the Joseph P. Riley Leadership Award.
Gov. Mark Sanford awarded Hugh with the Order of the Palmetto in 2008, the state’s highest civilian honor. In addition to his notable work for the ACE Basin, the governor cited Hugh’s leadership positions with Ashley Hall, the Charleston Museum, Trident Urban League, Drummond Center, Lowcountry Open Land Trust, Roper Foundation, S.C. Chamber of Commerce, South Carolina Coastal Council, Trident United Way, Palmetto Project, Plantation Society and Southern Environmental Law Center.
“My father was one of the founders of the United Way in Charleston. I got involved with the museum because of my interest in history, so all of that continues to be very important to me,” Hugh says.
Hugh’s brother, Charles Lane, and late father, Hugh Lane Sr., previously received the Order of the Palmetto. “I think that’s unique for three people from the same family to receive that award.”
All the things Hugh is fervent about, all of the service he has rendered over the span of his career, are rooted in his sense of place. Hugh Lane the person is as authentically Charleston as his accent. He could not be prouder of his hometown.
“When I went away to prep school in 1962, the metropolitan area of Charleston wasn’t even 100,000 people. Most people thought of it as a sleepy little Southern town that really had not overcome the Civil War. When I was in Connecticut and told someone I was from Charleston, the first thing they would think of was West Virginia coal miners. Now when you go anywhere in the world and mention Charleston, the reaction is, ‘What a great city! I’ve been there.’ Or, ‘It’s on the top of my bucket list to visit.’ The transformation of the city in a relatively short period of time is rather extraordinary. When I tell my children what it used to be like, they’re in disbelief because they grew up in a different Charleston,” Hugh says.
He sees the transformation continuing, and he believes it will only bring good things. “The rise of high-tech business is going to create an enormous amount of wealth. But, it crept up on me. I was in a meeting one time where someone was talking about ‘Silicon Harbor.’ I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And they said Charleston. There have been more than 200 startups in the past two years. Boeing is going to do more to change Charleston than anything since the Civil War.”
Like Boeing and his coveted ducks, Charleston is awing –— and Hugh is eager to see where she goes and to be in the midst of it all. For anyone looking for guidance or words of wisdom from the famed South Carolina banker, it’s this: “Surround yourself with good people and give them the authority to do their jobs.” That and his father’s sage words, “Don’t live so far away from where you work that you spend all your time commuting.” It’s advice Hugh has banked on for an entire career.