HOWARD POWERless - the Rise & Fall of the Howard Savings Bank
By Paul A. Luscombe, Published by PAL Publishing Co. Chatham, NJ 007928.
By John L. Kraft
The date is Oct. 2, 1992. The place is the office of William Tuggle, CEO of The Howard Savings Bank. The speaker is Steve Szabatin, deputy banking commissioner:
“I am Steve Szabatin representing the state of New Jersey Department of Banking. Joining me is P.T. Steffens, examiner of the state of New Jersey. At 3:00 p.m. today, Mr. Steffens will take back the charter granted the bank in 1857 and all the terms of the cease and desist order become effective at that time.”
Those words marked the demise of the Howard Savings Bank, New Jersey’s largest savings bank. The following Monday, all Howard offices opened under the name of First Fidelity Bank, now Wachovia Bank, N. A.
Paul A. Luscombe tells the history of the Howard in a fascinating chronicle that focuses particularly on the last 14 years (1979-1992) of the Howard’s existence, a turbulent, dangerous time for all banks in New Jersey.
Bill Tuggle, a commercial banker from First Fidelity Bank was at the helm as CEO when the Howard sank. By the time he was selected as Howard’s CEO (1991) it was too late to save the bank from its final fate.
The book tells the Howard story in terms of the tenures of its various CEOs and how the leadership, judgment and style of each contributed to the long-time success and ultimate failure of the Howard.
William I. Maude (1944-1961), John W. Kress (1961-1970), Bruce Alexander (1970-1974), Murray Forbes (1974-1982), Donald McCormick (1982-1990), Leo Rogers (1990) (acting CEO), Donald Peterson (1990) (Vice Chairman of the Board) and, finally, William Tuggle (1990-1992) march through the modern history of the Howard and the banking business in New Jersey in an ever quickening cadence to disaster.
The economic stage is set by a foreword to the book describing the U .S. economy from 1979 to 1992 - not a friendly atmosphere for banks, with 20 percent prime rates, deep recession, and other events that still make bankers cringe even today when remembering those difficult years.
This is the backdrop against which the Howard’s failure is played out. To be sure, these events contributed to the Howard’s demise. Yet other banks survived. It appears that the Howard was brought to its knees by the decisions of its CEOs and the compliance of a passive board of directors who accepted anything certain CEOs wanted to do.
HOWARD POWERless is liberally sprinkled with anecdotes of the author’s life, including a life-long savings ethic instilled by his father, a banker himself and president of Peoples Bank in Belleville; college days at Lafayette and Wharton; and a career as a bond salesman, mostly at Halsey Stuart & Co., covering the New Jersey banking community.
The book closes with the poignant recounting of the death of long time Howard board member Donald Peterson aboard United Flight #93 on Sept. 11, 2001.
HOWARD POWERless will delight the reader as a slice of history of New Jersey that many of us have lived through. The names, the places, the events are told in a style that compels one’s attention, even those for whom this is “before our time.”
There are banking lessons to be learned here by all, so that this history remembered can be avoided in the future. Put simply, the book is a tour de force, guaranteed to please and inform all who venture into its pages.
The book can be ordered online from the author at www.palpublishing.com.
John L. Kraft is a New Jersey attorney who has represented numerous banks in New Jersey since 1971, including the Howard Savings Bank. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.