The SunTrust Plaza in downtown Atlanta.
Allison Dukes

Allison Dukes assumed her new position at SunTrust Banks Inc. on Monday, April 3, to lead the bank’s commercial and business banking activities while retaining her post as chairman of the Atlanta division at a time when small- to medium-sized companies seek to benefit from positive local, national and global economic trends.

Ms. Dukes told Global Atlanta that she assumes her new responsibilities as the bank’s small- to medium-sized company clients in Atlanta “have a bullish tone over a cross section of companies, not just in one industry.”

This year’s Business Pulse Survey that the bank conducts annually found that 75 percent of the 129 middle market companies polled in Atlanta with annual revenues of $10-150 million and small businesses with annual revenues of $2-10 million had positive outlooks for the rest of the year.

The Atlanta respondents were generally more optimistic than the 510 national respondents who were “slightly more cautious” and uncertain regarding the impact of the policies to be implemented by the new administration.

With positive prospects for the business cycle, 31 percent of the Atlanta firms’ managers queried said that “their short term priority” is profitability, a 29 percent increase since 2016.

According to the survey, 34 percent of the Atlanta small businesses polled are focused on revenue, a 54 percent increase from last year.

Ever the banker, Ms. Dukes who joined SunTrust in the corporate banking division in 1997, said that 75 percent of the respondents “believe they have the access to the critical capital needed.” 

In her new role, she is to lead the commercial and business banking line across all geographic divisions. She also is to be responsible for coordinating the delivery of the investment banking and capital market capabilities offered by SunTrust Robinson Humphrey to SunTrust’s commercial and business banking clients.

She has served over the years through a series of leadership positions in corporate and investment banking, private wealth management and finance, including managing director and head of syndicated finance originations for SunTrust Robinson Humphrey and chief financial officer of Consumer Banking and Private Wealth Management.

A noticeable uptick from years past is that 58 percent of the Atlanta respondents consider the global economy to be strong in comparison to 45.5 percent nationally.

“The state of Georgia is very pro-business,” Ms. Dukes said. “It has been chosen as the #1 state for doing business the past four years by Site Selection magazine and the state is in an expansion mode.”

The respondents view for the future is even more positive with 77 percent saying that they expect the global economy to do better over the next six months.

Their analysis is based on the often cited high expectations for the Trump administration’s national policies concerning tax reform, 44 percent, and reduced regulations, 39 percent, and investment in infrastructure, 37 percent, as ways to spur U.S. business momentum and consequently the global economy.

Health care also is expected as a driver, 46 percent, but the survey was concluded before the failure of the Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. 

Looking into prospects for the next five years, the respondents prioritized introducing a new product or service as their top long-term strategy to stimulate growth for both mid-market and small businesses.

A major capital investment (31 percent) and acquiring another company (17 percent) also were cited as important priorities for mid-market companies.

The survey showed an interest in expanding to new international markets (15.5 percent) while a small percentage revealed their plans to exit an international market (3.1 percent). Ms. Dukes said that a wide variety of Atlanta businesses can confidently enter foreign markets including consumer goods, health care and knowledge-based institutions.

While in the past two years, the survey revealed widespread concerns about currency manipulations in international deals, she said that the bank has a number of strategies for minimizing the currency risks.

“We spend a good deal of time advising our clients about currency relationships,” she added. “In the interconnected economy every business has exposure to the global economy in some way.”

A reflection of the positive attitudes underlying the survey were the responses concerning buy outs and mergers (27.9 percent), substantially higher than the national percentages (19.6 percent) and firms’ expectations of becoming publicly held.

“Companies see mergers and acquisitions as a way to growth and a means of augmenting their businesses,” she said. “It’s a way of creating liquidity opportunities and working out a succession plan. Right now these alternatives are available.”

“The recession still feels fresh,” she added. “But banks are eager to lend. We want to use our balance sheet to serve the needs of our clients.”

Although obviously upbeat about taking over her new post, she said that Atlanta still faced infrastructure challenges which have been highlighted with the collapse of a portion of Interstate 85.

“Fixing infrastructure and transit are important for the city’s growth,” she said. “These “headwinds,” however, are counterbalanced by the city’s economic prospects, the strength of its technical schools and colleges. Their graduates are a real asset bringing with them innovations and great ideas.”

Ms. Dukes serves on a variety of various civic and community organizations including the executive board of Junior Achievement of Georgia, the Atlanta History Center, the Metro Atlanta Camber of Commerce and the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation.

As of Dec. 31, 2016, SunTrust had total assets of $205 billion and total deposits of $160 billion. The company has three business segments: Consumer Banking and Private Wealth Management, Wholesale Banking and Mortgage Banking.

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