As a Peace Corp volunteer and
Ed Dolby has won battles by delivering on promises
By Kevin Brafford
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
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
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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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