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USAA Taps Senior Truist Counsel to Become Next Top Lawyer

May 8, 2020, 7:18 PM

The United Services Automobile Association has recruited a new law department leader in Robert Johnson Jr., who most recently served as general counsel for corporate, commercial, and legal shares services at the newly formed Truist Financial Corp.

Johnson will start June 1 at San Antonio-based USAA, a financial giant that provides banking and insurance services to past and present members of the U.S. military and their families.

A USAA spokesman confirmed Johnson’s hire Friday to Bloomberg Law. His appointment had not yet been publicly announced. Johnson, whose official title will be executive vice president, chief legal officer, and general counsel, will report directly to USAA president and CEO Wayne Peacock.

“Bob’s deep legal and financial services background, combined with his authentic leadership style and passion for the roles diversity and inclusion play in driving successful business outcomes, make him an excellent fit here,” Peacock said in a statement. “We look forward to his contributions to USAA.”

Johnson succeeds former USAA in-house legal chief Deneen Donnley, who the company said retired in September 2019. In January, Donnley joined New York-based utility Consolidated Edison Inc. as senior vice president and general counsel. The following month, USAA named Neil Wilcox, its general counsel for enterprise shared services, to serve as its interim legal chief.

USAA said in its statement announcing Johnson’s hire that Wilcox will remain with the company in a senior leadership role within its legal department. Wilcox, Donnley, and Johnson have all been involved with the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity, a group of law department leaders and law firm managing partners whose mission is to create a more inclusive legal profession.

Trail to Truist

Johnson “brings more than 23 years of legal and financial services expertise” to USAA, the privately owned, member organization said.

At Truist, Johnson leaves a Charlotte, N.C.-based bank holding company that was formed in December upon the completion of a $66 billion combination between BB&T Corp. and SunTrust Banks Inc.

Both banks announced their all-stock merger in February 2019 and subsequently pledged $60 billion in community funding in an effort to muster support for their union. In November, federal banking regulators approved the deal, the largest merger between two U.S. banks in more than a decade.

Johnson, who began his legal career as an associate in 1997 at what is now Squire Patton Boggs, had worked at Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T since 2005 as general counsel, corporate secretary, and chief corporate governance officer. Over the years he oversaw BB&T’s acquisitions of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based BankAtlantic Bancorp Inc. and The Bank of Kentucky Financial Corp.

When BB&T’s proposed sale to Atlanta-based SunTrust was announced last year, the acquiring bank said that its general counsel, Ellen Fitzsimmons, would remain part of the senior management team at Truist.

Fitzsimmons now serves as Truist’s chief legal officer, corporate secretary, and head of enterprise diversity and human resources. In March, Truist announced that Fitsimmons would also be part of the Truist Foundation, a Charlotte-based nonprofit it created to support education and economic mobility.

Truist did not list Fitzsimmons or Johnson as among its highest-paid in a 2019 proxy statement filed in March. Bloomberg data shows that Johnson currently owns $1.01 million in Truist stock, while Fitzsimmons’ Truist stock holdings are currently valued at roughly $383,000.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at