Mark E. Macomber is president & CEO, Litchfield Bancorp, Litchfield, Conn. He was named the bank’s executive vice president in late 1993 and was elected president & CEO of the bank in March 1994. Macomber began his career with The Savings Bank of Newport in Newport, R.I. and then with Rhode Island Hospital Trust National Bank in Providence, R.I. Currently, he also serves and president & CEO of Connecticut Mutual Holding Co., a two-bank organization that also includes Northwest Community Bank in Winsted, Conn. Macomber served in the United States Naval Reserve retiring in 1991 with the rank of commander.
He has contributed to his community in a range of activities including: director and treasurer of the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation; director and treasurer of the Litchfield Historical Society; director of the Connecticut Junior Republic; former chairman of the board of the Chamber of Commerce of Northwest Connecticut; and former president of the United Way of Northwest Connecticut.
His professional activities include: director and member of the Executive Committee of America’s Community Bankers; director of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston; incoming president of the Connecticut Community Bankers Association; and former chairman of the Connecticut Bankers Association.
Q: How did an officer in the Navy end up as a bank president in Connecticut?
A: Good fortune and serendipity. When I left active duty in the fall of 1972, I had little idea of what I wanted to do as a way of making a living. The Navy was not into career counseling for departing line officers and my career plan consisted mostly of reading want ads – fortunately it was a good time for finding work. My grandfather was a corporator of a small savings bank in Newport, R.I., so, with great forethought, I got up one morning and applied there and also to a couple other banks. I was offered jobs at each one, but elected the shortest commute and least salary cut from my Navy job – yes, cut. I spent eight and a half years there and then moved on to Rhode Island Hospital Trust National Bank in Providence. There I had an opportunity to run, in order, bank operations, the branch system and private bank lending, i.e., to get a very broad background in myriad functions. For quite a few years it was very rewarding as the bank had an uncommon entrepreneurial culture. That changed dramatically after Bank of Boston bought Hospital Trust. The attitude from Boston was essentially that all intelligent banking knowledge ceased at Route 128 and it stopped being fun.
I got to Connecticut through a very circuitous route involving my wife, friends of friends, Tom Collins of HAS Associates, and a persistent board chairman at Litchfield Bancorp, Don Mayland. I was also considering a position at a good-sized mutual in New Jersey (kind of scary to think about now). Don asked me to meet with him before I made a decision, so I ventured to Lakeville with my wife, Fran. We had a great meeting with Don and after a nice meal at the White Hart watched as a large buck deer crossed the road on the way back to our B&B. Don was also a Naval officer and we had an immediate connection at that point. Our most memorable experience in New Jersey had been taking a wrong turn and ending up in Patterson. Let’s see – bullets or Bambi.
So, here I am, and I couldn’t be happier. Don and I, and our entire board, share a commitment to Litchfield County and to maintaining a strong community bank that meets its obligations to its customers, employees and community.
Q: You have recently been chairman of the CBA, are very active in the Connecticut Community Bankers Association and currently serve as the chairman of the America’s Community Bankers Mutual Institutions Committee. How do you find the time and energy to do all of these things?
A: First, I have a highly competent senior management team, and I am confident in delegating important decisions to them. We’ve built a very effective team and when I’m away I know they’ll be moving our bank in the direction we’ve planned together. Just as importantly, I have an assistant in Marilyn Mitchell who is unquestionably the most loyal, capable right-hand I could find.
I enjoy my association with each organization and, more importantly, with the exceptional colleagues who are also involved in leadership positions. I am grateful to have an opportunity to serve our industry and believe it is incumbent on senior bank managers to be involved in trade organizations at some level. We are fortunate indeed to have exceptional staff at CBA and at ACB, but they can only be effective if they have the active support and engagement of their members.
Each of these organizations fills an important, and largely unique role in the life of my bank. The CBA continues as a highly effective and respected advocate for our industry at the Connecticut state house and with our federal representatives, and provides top-notch educational programs. ACB fills a similar role on a national level and, I believe, is unmatched in its ability to represent mutuals and their unique interests as well as its diverse, non-mutual members. I am particularly pleased to serve as chair of the Mutual Institutions Committee given ACB’s superb advocacy for mutuals, most recently evidenced in testimony by Charlotte Bahin at the New Haven Savings Bank conversion hearings and at state house hearings on matters critical to Connecticut mutuals. The CCBA is, of course, a terrific networking organization and much like a comfortable club in culture. We know each other well and enjoy great camaraderie while sharing ideas.
Q: Litchfield Bancorp and Northwest Community Bank joined together under Connecticut Mutual Holing Co., to create the state’s first mutual-mutual partnership in early 2001. It has been three years, how is it going?
A: Chris Pitt and I continue to be great friends and, I believe, effective partners in this unique endeavor. Neither of us has improved our golf games since we formed the holding company, so I guess there’s still a lot of work to do, but we have made excellent progress to date. Our purpose in forming the holding company was for each bank to benefit from certain economies of scale, as partners to afford specialists we both needed but could not individually justify, and, most importantly, to retain our ability to operate our institutions as independent mutual savings banks. I’m confident that we’ve accomplished each of those goals, though clearly work remains.
We now share a consolidated operations function and IT resources. Our loan participations have greatly enhanced each bank’s ability to solicit and service larger loan customers. Operations and branch administration policies and procedures are essentially identical. We now have in-house sales management resources and people dedicated to regulatory matters and branch operations. HR policies are the same and benefits heading that way. We develop products and marketing strategies in tandem, although we take different approaches. This has been accomplished while retaining each bank’s unique identity and allowing our respective boards to direct their own bank in a way most responsive to different communities.
Chris and I are pleased with the progress and with the teamwork displayed by our staffs. Of course, there have been turf discussions and how-to discussions, but they have been resolved amicably and with the best interests of the holding company in mind. Importantly the partnership has resulted in improved benefits and opportunities for our employees.
Q: You were recently appointed to the board of directors of the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston. What do you expect?
A: Having been through the new director orientation and attended my first board meeting, I expect a lot of work. I will serve on the products and finance committees, but plan to attend other committee meetings as part of my learning curve.
This is a critical time for the Federal Home Loan Bank System, as GSEs are under intense scrutiny by Congress and the White House. Freddie Mac’s recent problems and some setbacks experienced by several other FHLBs last year create a climate that makes reasoned dialogue difficult. The issues at stake are of great importance to all member banks and, certainly, to our economy. They include the push for registration of FHLB securities with the SEC and the potential for a “world-class” regulator for GSEs. Will that regulator be within or outside the treasury and will the FHLBanks regulator be separate from the regulator for Freddie and Fannie? The prospects for legislation this year appear bleak, but things can change quickly in Washington. And on top of all this, new capital plans are being adopted at each FHLBank.
I am impressed with the seriousness and professionalism of the staff at the FHLB of Boston and with the dedication of our directors. Directors at the committee level and at the full-board level are fully engaged in current issues and enjoy an open and candid dialogue with senior staff. I am honored to be a member of the board.
Q: What do you think is the key to survival of community banks in Connecticut and the Northeast?
A: There is no one key - each community bank has to understand its own constituency and do well the things that its customers demand. While community banks can, and largely do, provide most of the high-tech products of our larger competitors, we won’t win trying to outspend Bank of America on technology.
I believe the focus of community banks must be on excellent service delivery, not promises or catchy ads, but the day-to-day, disciplined culture that treats every customer, large and small, with respect and professionalism. Culture is the right word, because it reflects an attitude that starts at the top and permeates an organization. It means hiring people who have positive outlooks and who enjoy dealing with customers as the best part of their jobs, not the worst of it. It means training in sales, product knowledge, and customer relations and then reinforcing the employee actions that create a positive customer experience. It means taking ownership of customer issues until they are successfully resolved.
For management it means caring about employees as something other than FTEs or headcount – they have real needs and wants and we’d better understand them.
Certainly, we need to provide all the technology we can afford, the convenience our customers demand, and the creative products to get a jump on the guy down the street, but our employees and the culture we create through them are what will differentiate us in the end and make or break our institutions.
Norm goes to Cheers for the beer and the nuts, of course, but his reason for going back to the same place time after time is the welcome he gets when he comes through the door and the people he finds inside.
Q: What will be the bank’s most pressing challenge over the next three years?
A: Competing in an environment of greatly expanded competition, stressed margins, and commoditization of most of our core products. Our holding company will help significantly in lowering costs and in product development, as outlined above, but we need to look beyond the current environment and answers to its challenges. Further development of the holding company and its potential are a continuing focus.
If, as I believe, our staff is and will be our greatest strength, hiring and keeping qualified employees is at the top. That means keeping bright, ambitious men and women engaged and motivated in a small organization – no easy task.
For a small institution like Litchfield Bancorp, or even the combined resources of the holding company, there are a number of difficult, threatening issues in every load of the inbox. However, I am confident that a well-run smaller institution, mutual or stock, has an extraordinary role to play in its community. We will meet the challenges, known and unknown. Our future is bright and I look forward to every day I’m here.
This is the greatest job for me, period!
Questions posed by Lindsey R. Pinkham, senior vice president & secretary of the Connecticut Bankers Association.