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Trust Factor
As a Peace Corp volunteer and corporate executive,
Ed Dolby has won battles by delivering on promises

By Kevin Brafford

Ed Dolby ushers the first-time visitor into his uptown Charlotte office. The Bank of America president for North and South Carolina first offers a firm handshake, then his guest a seat.

He walks behind his desk and says, “Let me shut the door so we can have some privacy.” With that, Dolby points a remote control its way and, presto, the door quickly closes.

The visitor is dutifully impressed. When he gets up to leave one hour later, he’s even more so and wonders just how much Dolby can accomplish with the simple push of a button. Plenty, he thinks.

Many top business executives excel at tooting their own horn loudly and proudly. Not Edward Cecil Dolby, who deflects credit to his team members with the same precision that Tiger Woods strikes a 2-iron. His quiet exterior belies a fire that burns inside, a competitiveness that’s outwardly known by few.

“Anything that involves winning and losing,” says Milton Jones, the Bank of America president for Georgia and Tennessee, “Ed is going to focus on winning. He’s very committed to winning business away from the competition. Always has been, always will be.”

The expectation that Dolby has of his team members and associates is much like he is: quick and to the point. “My only pet peeve is to just do what you say you’re going to do,” he says. “Deliver on your promise. It’s a trust factor, and it’s something that can’t be broken.”

A person can talk that talk only if he or she has walked the walk. And for more than 30 years, Dolby has done that at Bank of America, moving through ever high positions on his ascent to the top — that seldom-achieved place where doors magically close by themselves.

Dolby’s story began in Raleigh, the second of four sons to Normal and Pauline Dolby. The family lived in the southern part of the city near Shaw University. His late father was a shipping and receiving clerk and his mother, now 80, a housewife.

“Raleigh then was not Raleigh now,” he says. “This was the 1950s, long before segregation. It was a very vibrant downtown — there weren’t any shopping malls then.

“It was extremely small, or at least it seemed. The population may have been 50,000. Tobacco was king at that time, and Raleigh was an agriculture city driven by tobacco — the city itself was surrounded by tobacco farms.”

Dolby says he was blessed to have a strong family and support system within downtown. He remembers “good public schools with good teachers who nurtured and challenged us.” He remembers a YMCA that at the time was an extremely influential institution for the African-American community.

“We were a close family,” he says. “We were deeply involved with our church, First Baptist on Morgan Street, and our school teachers during the week were our Sunday School teachers at church. They knew everything that was going on in our lives.”

He remembers in particular his fourth-grade teacher, Miss Davis. In those days, one teacher taught each subject, making the educator an extension of the family. “She could do it all,” Dolby says. “She could hit a baseball and she could outrun us on the bases. That got our respect and we didn’t want to let her down.

“If she didn’t think you had done your best, she’d tell you — that had a profound impact. She would challenge and push you, yet if there was a need for nurturing, she was able to do that, too.”

Dolby was challenged at school and challenged at home. Brother David, 2 1/2 years his senior, was both every sibling’s dream and nightmare.

“He was a model student who set such high standards that me and my younger brothers had to follow,” Ed says. “He had a beautiful singing voice — still does — he was tall, well-mannered, everything. I’d always hear, ‘Why can’t you be more like your brother?’ ”

David, an ordained minister and an agent for Prudential Insurance in Raleigh for the past 35 years, laughs when hears that story. “Being responsible, I’m afraid, that happens to fall to the lot of the oldest,” he says.

Still, the younger brother resembled the older brother more than the former might think. “He and I were closer in age than our other two brothers,” says David, “so we did a lot of things together. I remember us going downtown to handle the family business, such as paying bills and making bank deposits.”

That show of responsibility aside, evidence existed even then that there was a business executive in the making. “He was always enterprising,” David says. “When we were small, he would never spend all of his money. He knew how to handle the dollar — I think that’s just his gift.

“This was the 1940s and ’50s, you see, and back then you could buy gingersnap cookies two for a penny. If we each had 10 cents, he’d spend 5 cents and save 5 cents. He’d buy 10 cookies rather than 20, and when he got home he’d break his cookies in half. That way, he could make them last for the whole week.”

A healthy competitiveness always existed in the Dolby home. “The people who know me will tell you that I’m a competitive person,” Ed says, “and I got a lot of that competitive spirit from competing with my brother. I was always trying to outdo him, but I don’t think that I ever did.”

David says that’s not true, that he played second fiddle to Ed more than once. “One year, Ed won an Easter egg hunt — maybe he finished second — and the prize was a summerlong pass to the swimming pool. Let me tell you, he stayed in that pool so much that he looked like a prune. He was not one to let an opportunity go to waste.”

Attending Shaw was almost a given for Ed. His father had graduated from there and David was on course to do likewise. Ed would go on to major in sociology, but he had a hankering all along that a place in the business world awaited him.

It was his quiet confidence that first drew the attention of Dee Daniel. A native of Oxford and also a student a Shaw, she “watched him pass by my room all summer long going to a job.”

“I knew then that I wanted to meet him,” she says, “but I just didn’t know how. You could tell just by watching him walk that he was determined, that he had some place to be. I liked that.”

The first meeting didn’t come until the following fall. She was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a sorority that served as a “little sister” to Dolby’s Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

“A friend and I were riding through campus one day,” she recalls, “and there he was. She knew him and I asked her to introduce us. We were going to visit a friend who had a newborn and we asked him if he wanted to go. He said OK and that was where it all began.”

A short time later, she feared that the relationship might end just as quickly. “We got to our friend’s house and looked at that baby and I said to Ed, ‘One day that’s going to be us.’ For some reason I knew — I think that God had a plan for us — and my type of personality made the words come right out.

“I’m just so glad that I didn’t frighten him away.”

There was no such chance, Dolby says, although he wasn’t about to let Dee know that. “I had an idea that she was the one,” he says, “but let’s just say that her outlook for us as a couple toward what we would achieve was far more positive than mine.

“She’s a great humanitarian and always has been,” he adds. “She has a very religious background and a tremendous faith. She’s the cheerleader type and I’m a bit more reserved, so in that respect and many others we’re polar opposites. But we complement each other very well, and I just had an intuitive feel that everything was going to work out.”

Maybe that’s why he felt comfortable making a life-altering decision as he neared graduation in 1966. The Peace Corps was in its infancy and when its recruiters came to campus, Dolby’s interest was piqued.

“I was challenged by the acceptance rate — I think they accepted about every one in 500,” he says. “I wanted to find out if they wanted me.”

They did, and he said yes to a two-year commitment to serving in India, unbeknownst to his family and girlfriend. “I thought it was an opportunity to see another culture,” he says, “to get out of an environment that was still struggling with a lot of racial issues, to see the world and to grow. As a sociology major, it appealed to me.”

It didn’t appeal to Dee. “Even today, 35 years later,” says Ed, “she still talks about ‘his’ decision. My mother didn’t understand it and didn’t like it. My father was OK with it, and my brothers thought it was cool. Dee still doesn’t like it.”

“I was so heartbroken,” she says. “I had a year of school left, and I just thought he’d go off to graduate school. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to go through.”

It also was the longest two years of their lives. Visits weren’t allowed and vacations were non-existent. And having the chance to make an overseas phone call was practically the same.

So everyday they wrote. It was therapy, the only way to stay connected. Mailgrams, they were called. Federal Express it wasn’t, but a steady stream of letters flowed between Raleigh and Bangladesh.

“Being in India was an eye-opener, to say the least,” Dolby says. “I had never been called an American before, and that was a profound moment. You started with that type of reality and just went on and on. You saw poverty, customs, things you didn’t understand.

“Being there for two years and not being able to get an American newspaper — that helped you understand what a global world we live in. A clean glass of water, reasonable health facilities and all of the things that we take for granted … It changes you, believe me, and makes you aware of how privileged we are.”

Dolby returned in August 1968, two years older and much more than that wiser. His and Dee’s relationship remarkably had strengthened, a testament to each’s faith and fortitude. Two months later, they married.

Dolby worked as an insurance agent for a couple of years, just long enough to realize that the field wasn’t for him. He interviewed at what was then North Carolina National Bank, and came away as impressed with the company as the company was with him.

“They were folks who had a vision even then,” says Dolby. “The way they thought, the way they handled themselves — it seemed like a good fit. Everything was based on merit, and I liked that.”

He and Dee moved to Charlotte. Eight years later, a promotion took them to Chapel Hill, where they lived until returning to Charlotte in 1987 when Dolby was named a consumer bank executive for North and South Carolina.

Along the way three sons were born: Edward, now 31, who lives in Charlotte and is a mortgage banker for Central Carolina Bank; Terius, 27, who’s working on his MBA at Wake Forest University; and Jarvone, 26, who owns a health food/juice bar in Atlanta.

Despite maintaining a rigorous work schedule for more than 30 years — Dolby rises at 4:45 each morning and his head doesn’t hit the pillow again generally until 11:30 that night, even on weekends — Dee says her husband couldn’t have been a better father.

“We learned as a family that he’s doing what he loves,” she says, “and yet he’d find time for the boys. They’re definitely shaped in his mold. He’s always been able to see the whole picture — that’s one of the things he’s passed on to the boys.”

Dolby was promoted to his current position in 1997. His responsibilities include commercial and consumer banking, small business banking, professional and executive banking, newcomer and relocation banking, and treasury management. He’s also a member of the company’s multi-cultural leadership team and its commercial and consumer executive team.

He’s most proud of forming the African-American Banking Group in 1995, a national program that’s been highly successful. “We’ve been able to focus on the affluent African-American markets nationwide, and we’ve also been able to help small businesses on the local level. We’ve broken ground in a lot of areas, and it’s all been very rewarding.”

The program, says Milton Jones, is an example of Dolby’s wisdom. “Ed’s good at making sure the right pieces are in place to lead to success,” he says. “He’s very good at getting straight to the chase and understanding the key elements. That’s where you see his intensity, his competitiveness.”

Dolby just completed a year as chair of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce. While he no longer wears that hat, he acquired another one last year when Gov. Easley appointed him to the state Department of Transportation board.

Through it all, he remains remarkably fit, the byproduct of a disciplined exercise program. “I used to run three miles a day, but my knees are getting to me, so it’s down to about three times a week,” he says. “Now I’m into more cardiovascular stuff — the bicycles, treadmills and Stairmasters.”

His predictably, Dee says, is eerie. “His keys are always in the same place,” she says. “His closet is immaculate. He knows where everything is at all times, and I think that’s been a secret to his success. I tell him that he doesn’t have hobbies, that work has always been his hobby. But he still loves it.”

Dolby turned 57 last month and retirement, he concedes, occasionally creeps into his mind. “In business, you have a starting point, you have progression points and you have an end point,” he says. “Dean Smith (the former University of North Carolina basketball coach) used to be asked about retirement a lot and he said he’d know when the time came. I think I’ll know, too.”

In the meantime, there are still meetings to attend, associates to mentor, and decisions to be made.

And many buttons to be pushed.

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