James H. Blanchard served as chief executive officer of Synovus, a financial services company based in Columbus, from 1971 to 2005, when he became the corporation’s chairman of the board. His tenure has spanned the periods of greatest growth and prosperity at the company, which was founded in 1888 as Columbus Bank and Trust Company.
Born on July 22, 1941, in Augusta, James Hubert Blanchard earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Georgia in 1963 and a law degree from the University of Georgia in 1965. He served for two years as a first lieutenant and finance officer in the U.S. Army before returning to Columbus to join a law firm. Soon thereafter, at the age of twenty-nine, he was selected as the top executive at Columbus Bank and Trust Company, a position previously held by his father, James W. Blanchard.
During his thirty-four years as chief executive officer, Blanchard placed tremendous emphasis on leadership education at the company. He focused especially on the benefits of servant leadership principles, a concept espoused by Robert K. Greenleaf, an essayist who became popular in the 1970s for his writings on management, servanthood, organizations, power, and spirituality. Collaboration, trust, and the ethical use of power—which relies on creative rather than coercive or manipulative power—are core elements of this philosophy. Blanchard has said, “Servant leadership is a worthy goal unto itself. We run our company this way simply because it’s right, because every person who works here has great worth and deserves to be treated so. Our company is built on these values. They define who we are.”
One of Blanchard’s career highlights was to rally support for the multibank holding company bill, which was passed by the Georgia legislature in 1976. Under his guidance, Columbus Bank and Trust and Columbus Bank and Trust Bancshares, later to be named Synovus Financial Corporation, became the first bank holding company in Georgia. Since that time, Synovus has operated under a decentralized, autonomous management model for community banking. Blanchard also played an instrumental role in establishing Total System Services Incorporated (TSYS) in 1983, which now provides electronic payment processing services for hundreds of millions of consumers worldwide. Synovus owns an 81 percent interest in TSYS.
Blanchard serves as a board member for Columbus Bank and Trust Company, as well as the chairman of the executive committee and a board member for TSYS. He also serves on several other corporate boards in Georgia and has been active in state and local government, education, conservation, economic development, and the United Way. In 1997 Blanchard was the first executive outside the greater Atlanta area to be chosen as Georgia Trend magazine’s Most Respected CEO, and in 2003 he was selected as the publication’s Georgian of the Year. In 2004 he received the Harvard Business School Club of Atlanta Community Leadership Award and was named among Georgia Trend’s top one hundred “most influential Georgians.” In 2005 U.S. Banker magazine named Blanchard one of America’s “Twenty-Five Most Influential People in Financial Services,” and he was elected to a three-year term as a member of the board of directors for the American Banking Association. Blanchard is married to Frances Sterne and has three children, Jimmy, Billy, and David.