Rick Vail was named president and chief executive officer of Mechanics Savings Bank Jan. 30. He has 28 years of experience in the financial services industry, having worked in commercial lending both at Gorham Savings Bank and at Peoples Heritage Bank, predecessor of TD Banknorth. He was also formerly a financial consultant for A.G. Edwards & Sons.
Q: What is the greatest challenge facing a new CEO?
A: The process of change is difficult for everyone – staff, board, customers and the CEO. Communication (which includes listening) is critical. My goal has been to make sure that we are all heading in the same direction as quickly as possible.
Q: What has been easier than you expected?
A: The board and staff have been great. They have made me feel welcome and comfortable.
Q: Has anything been more difficult?
A: Nothing related to Mechanics specifically. I’ve always had a problem with patience. There are a number of areas that I would like to see us working on. As a small company, we have limited resources, so I need to manage my expectations and help prioritize initiatives.
Q: What are the idiosyncrasies of doing business in your market area?
A: Our physical footprint is in Androscoggin County and the Lakes Region area. I am a little more knowledgeable of the Lakes Region market than Androscoggin County. Like all markets in Maine, there is a great deal of strong competition from banks and non-banks in both of these markets. My first impression of the Androscoggin County market is that credit unions are very aggressive.
Q: What past experience best prepared you for this job?
A: I started as a teller in banking and, except for the operational side, have been exposed to a great deal on the customer contact side of the business. Although I’m sure that I have made more mistakes than most over my career, I believe that I’ve learned from my mistakes and have earned some credibility with staff when working through various issues.
Q: What past jobs or experiences not related to banking have helped shape your views?
A: I spent a few years in the retail brokerage business with A.G. Edwards. I have two take-aways from my time there: customer need for good advice from financial professionals, and how well-positioned the retail brokerage industry is to take market share from banks in traditional retail bank deposit and loan business lines.
Q: What advice would you give those aspiring to senior management?
A: Rather than advice, I’d like to focus on qualities that I respect and look for in all bank employees: integrity, work ethic, unselfish people who are confident enough to speak their mind, constructively challenge the status quo, admit and fix mistakes. I also like to see folks giving back to the communities we live and work in. Finally, a sense of humor helps a great deal.
Q: What are banking’s greatest challenges today?
A: I believe there are two major challenges for Maine-based banks. Maine’s economy continues to grow very slowly coupled with a great deal of competition from banks and non-banks pressuring margins. I am not sure that either of these trends will change; thus, I don’t believe that future margins will support the cost of traditional bank infrastructure. We need to diversify our sources of revenue while refining our operating models.
Q: What publications do you read regularly?
A: I try to stay on top of local events by reading the Press Herald, Sun Journal and Mainebiz. I do browse a variety of industry publications that make their way to my desk on a regular basis.
Q: What Web sites do you visit regularly?
A: Mechanics has an equity portfolio that is important to our earnings and capital base. Thus, when using the Internet, I spend most of my time at the finance sections of Yahoo and MSN.
Q: What books have you read recently?
A: I enjoy reading a wide range of fiction and non-fiction. Since reading “Founding Brothers” by Joseph Ellis a few years back, I’ve become very interested in early American history. Subsequently, I have tried to read material from this era including biographies on Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and Hamilton – an interesting group of individuals who pulled off an incredible event.