A Conversation with Dennis W. Haggerty
Dennis Haggerty became president and chief executive officer of First Citizens Bank in Presque Isle on Sept. 7. A native of Pittsfield and a graduate of St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt., he began his 30-year banking career at Maine National Bank in Portland in the early 1970s as a management trainee. He was a branch manager, a vice president of business development, a regional vice president/sales administrator and a senior vice president for the northern region. Haggerty was headquartered in Bangor during the 1980s and served as the senior banking officer in charge of commercial lending, branches and private/trust banking for the region. While in that position, he was responsible for all of the bank’s activities in Aroostook County. Most recently Haggerty was a regional vice president/commercial sales manager for Maine Bank and Trust in Portland.
Q: What is the greatest challenge facing a new CEO?
A: Assimilating into the organization, particularly if you’re new to the company. You can’t just assume everything is OK. It’s my job to blend in to the corporate structure. To help our transition, I gave the senior staff a list of six or seven questions they might want to ask me – things such as what do you want to know about me, what do I need to know about you, what are critical business issues and how do you recommend addressing these issues and obstacles. I stayed out of the room while they came up with bullet points of things for me to address. Later I met with them and tried to answer each point. This helped open the discussion of where they think the bank needs to go – good groundwork for the strategic planning that we will do.
Q: Has anything been easier or more difficult than you expected?
A: The whole transition from David Dorsey to me has been easier, and this is attributable to Dave and to the senior staff. Everyone at the bank was open, warm and welcoming.
Q: What are the idiosyncrasies of doing business in your market area? A: Aroostook County is a unique economy and community. You drive 110 miles through the woods from Bangor, and suddenly you’re back to civilization. That’s what makes it unique. Since there is not a big in-migration, we have to work hard to be part of this environment and economy. If you earn that right you’ll be OK.
Q: How do you earn the right to be part of the community?
A: I’ll never be from Presque Isle or the county, but I can work hard to deserve to be here. My wife is – that helps. I’ve moved a number of times, so I’m used to being the new guy. The board picked me and was persuaded that someone not from Presque Isle could do the job.
Q: What past experiences best prepared you for this job?
A: I’ve always been willing to move for opportunity, and I acclimate well. When I served as regional vice president of the Bangor region for Maine National, that was a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar region with lots of responsibility. Owning up to the responsibility that went with that lending authority, and always being around the commercial side of the business, were key.
Q: What past jobs or experiences not related to banking have helped shape your views?
A: I grew up in a small Maine town. I was active in Boy Scouts and shepherded my three boys through it – that was character building. Playing team sports in high school was good for team building. My parents were good role models. My dad, who was an accountant, never did anything I wasn’t proud of. He’s 94 now. I studied business administration and was always interested in relationships as much as financial statements.
Q: What advice would you give those aspiring to senior management?
A: Focus on goals, expectations and priorities that enhance the growth of the bank and your department. If people understand expectations, they’ll be successful. They will earn their way up. Too many managers don’t make their expectations clear, and too many employees don’t understand what is expected.
Q: What are banking’s greatest challenges?
A: One of them is trying to compete with credit unions on an unlevel playing field. Our greatest challenge as a bank in Aroostook County is lots of banks are after this market share, and we don’t have an expanding community. We really have to compete for it.
Q: What publications do you read regularly?
A: Daily and local papers, several periodicals and Trailer Boating magazine. I love being on the water.
Q: What Web sites do you visit regularly?
A: None regularly. I use the Internet for research. I might look up a definition from Reg O or visit Sheshunoff’s site for strategic planning information.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: I like to putter around the house, doing projects like building a shelf instead of buying one. I also like fishing and boating, and I’m a regular TV news watcher.