Executive to Watch Charles Jones: Humble origins, bright future

Auto Finance News is pleased to present its inaugural Executives to Watch feature, highlighting auto finance executives who exude experience, leadership and vision, and are expected to shake up the industry in 2020 and beyond.

Charles “Chuck” Jones, the man at the helm of SunTrust Bank’s prime auto finance business, has seen firsthand how access to transportation can transform lives.

Jones grew up in a small town near the Houston Ship Channel, supported by his single mother — a wartime evacuee from England — who worked three jobs, 20 hours a day. “As hard as we work or we think we work, it’s never going to be as hard as she did raising twin boys,” he said. “She’s always been my inspiration.”

Access to a car set Jones and his brother, the only two in their neighborhood to earn college degrees, on their paths to success. “Once we were able to get reliable transportation, it really got us out of poverty,” Jones said, adding that his mom went back to school once she had access to transportation.

“That’s why I’ve stayed with it for almost 38 years — it really does transform people’s lives,” he added.

Fast forward four decades and 22 career moves, Jones will lead Truist Bank’s prime auto finance business, which consolidates SunTrust’s legacy auto business and BB&T’s prime portfolio. Truist’s $16.7 billion auto finance operation catapults the once-regional lenders into a top-20 financier. Heading into 2020, SunTrust and BB&T executives are building out the Truist leadership team. “It’s sort of like having first-round draft choices,” Jones said.

“We will be a formidable, committed competitor right off the bat.” SunTrust’s prime and super-prime business combined with BB&T’s subprime subsidiary Regional Acceptance Corp. “will cover the full spectrum,” he added.

Technology will be a focal point for Truist. Though Jones is still mapping his first orders of business, he’s simultaneously prepping for the long-haul. “How do we plan for Day One when everything’s fully integrated, but really what does it look like five years or 10 years down the road?” Jones thought aloud. “All the disruption going on now is going to accelerate over time, so how do we prepare for that?”

As the two banks merge, community support will play a central role. “If you think about the fact that 71% of all Americans can’t handle a $400 emergency expense, we found there was a need for SunTrust to always support the community,” Jones said, adding that BB&T’s culture is similar.

Deeply devoted to their rural community, Jones and his wife Debbie endeavor to “to help the next generation have better opportunities than we did.” Together, they support domestic violence victims at No One Alone, the local chamber of commerce and Sam Houston State University. Since 2002, the Joneses have personally funded 135 scholarships, including two launched this year in Lumpkin County, Ga., where they live.

Despite leading one of the nation’s largest auto finance operations, it’s easy to see how Jones’s work ethic is steeped in his humble origins. One of his guiding principles is to “treat the money that you’re lending as if it’s your own money and invest it wisely.”

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the December issue of Auto Finance News, available now

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