Barry Wynn and Wally Barre believe it takes integrity, stability, long-term relationships and a good name to prosper in the financial services industry.
And over the past quarter-century, these Spartanburg business leaders have made those principles foundational to their independent trust firm off South Pine Street, Colonial Trust Co.
Founded in Spartanburg in 1913, Colonial Trust recently celebrated its 100th birthday. Wynn and Barre, who acquired the company in 1989, marked the centennial with an announcement for a fourth South Carolina office in Columbia.
“All we have is our integrity and our name,” said Barre, who serves as the company’s chairman. “We value those very highly. We’re in a business of relationships. We want to know our clients and we want them to know us Being independent allows us to be flexible and personal.”
In addition to its flagship office at 359 S. Pine St., Colonial Trust currently has locations in Greenville and Charleston. The expansion into the Columbia market will help it plant its flag in four of the state’s main financial hubs.
“The thing you have to establish is trust,” Wynn said. “If that is your hallmark, people trust that you’re going to tell them the truth. I think that is our greatest asset.”
Colonial Trust was founded by R.B. Cleveland, Thomas Screven and Julian Calhoun at a time when Spartanburg was being transformed by a booming textile industry. The flux from agrarian to industrial was the catalyst for thousands of jobs and a more affluent populace, Wynn and Barre said.
After the Great Depression, the company began emphasizing property and casualty insurance. It worked closely with the Veteran’s Administration as a conservator for disabled vets post-World War II and the Korean War. The Cleveland family remained involved with the company for 75 years.
Wynn and Barre, both of Spartanburg, began working together in 1976 at the brokerage and investment firm Robinson Humphrey Co. They became friends and eventually decided to go into business together.
In the wake of the stock market crash of 1987, Wynn and Barre said the financial services sector was in a period of consolidation. Companies were being bought and sold and the local industry was shifting away from a regional to a national focus.
The business partners decided to meet with Jesse Franklin Cleveland for some guidance. The meeting led to an offer for them to buy Colonial Trust. When Wynn and Barre took over the company, it was located on Morgan Square in downtown. The company’s assets were $20 million.
In 1996, the owners opened a location in Greenville run by Johnnie Mac Walters, the former IRS commissioner who became known for defying President Richard Nixon during the Watergate scandal.
Three years later, Wynn and Barre moved their main branch a little further east.
They were joined in the firm by their sons, Bert Barre and Camp Wynn, in 2001. The younger Barre and Wynn became principals in 2007.
A year later, the company’s Charleston office opened under the guidance of veteran tax and estate attorney David Humphreys.
Between Colonial’s trust and asset management groups, the company currently has $775 million in assets under advisement. One of the company’s clients has been with Colonial Trust since 1923, and some of its other customers go back two and three generations.
Colonial Trust has weathered two of the biggest financial disasters of the last century — the Great Depression and the Great Recession. The company has 18 employees.
“We all work very well together,” Bert Barre said. “We have shared values One of the things we said we were going to do is to do what we do well and not try to do everything for everybody.”
The elder Wynn and Barre, who took over the firm while they were in their 40s, said the time has passed quickly. They are happy to pass the mantle to their sons, but the primary objective is to stay independent.
Establishing a “beachhead” in Columbia has already started to raise Colonial Trust’s clout as a statewide institution, the owners said.
The owners said they have tried to lead by example and establish a culture of giving back to the community within their company, a tradition they plan to continue in Spartanburg.
Wally Barre serves as treasurer and elder at First Presbyterian Church, and is a board member of the Mary Black Foundation, Mary Black Memorial Hospital, and Spartanburg County Foundation.
Barry Wynn has served as a Presidential appointee to the National Advisory Committee on Commodity Distribution. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him to serve on the Pension Benefits Guarantee Corporation Advisory Committee, a position he served in through 2004. Wynn also serves as a board member of Santee Cooper.
“Colonial Trust is an organization with a strong history and tradition of integrity,” Bert Barre said. “We are proud to carry on the legacy that this important milestone represents. We certainly live in fascinating economic times, and we will continue to work diligently to stay informed and make prudent decisions for our clients.”