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Changes at the Top

Banking Veteran Janes Takes the Reins at NUVO
Dale Janes

Dale Janes wanted to return to banking at the community level and in a leadership position, and found that opportunity at NUVO Bank.

Dale Janes has a collection of his old business cards arranged inside a picture frame at his home.

There are more than a dozen in all, arranged clockwise, sort of, starting with his first assignment with Shawmut in 1980 as a credit analyst, and ending with what had been, until last month, his last stint in the banking industry, as regional executive with Sovereign, which ended in 2000.

There is now another card — although it has not yet joined the others, and Janes isn’t sure it will. It proclaims that he is the new chief executive officer of Springfield-based NUVO Bank, a career choice made, in large part, because of that proliferation of cards Janes collected over a roughly (and often rough) 20-year stretch in banking.

Indeed, that was a time of change, consolidation, turmoil, and lots of business cards for most people in the industry, especially those who, like Janes, were involved in commercial lending. It was a period, ushered in by the last major recession in the late ’80s and early ’90s, that left Janes frustrated and aggravated enough to leave banking for a job in the Retirement Services division at MassMutual, which he kept for more than eight years.

“By 2000, I had become tired, more mentally than physically, of banking,” he recalled. “For three or four years, all I had been doing was merging, being merged, letting people go, downsizing, and, quite frankly, telling clients things weren’t going to change when they probably were.”

But even before that job at MassMutual was eliminated earlier this year, Janes was thinking about a return to banking — with some caveats, however.

He wanted a leadership position (CEO or COO) — and a challenge — with a community bank, not a regional giant like the ones he worked for years ago. “That was what my heart was telling me — that I wanted to get back into banking, but at the community level, not at the big-bank level; I had no desire to go to a large bank.”

And he told BusinessWest that he talked with the CEO and/or board chairman of just about every institution that fits that category about opportunities that might exist.

One such individual was Don Chase, chairman of the board at NUVO, the small de novo bank that opened its doors in space once occupied by BayBank and other institutions in Tower Square. Chase had a proposition — for Janes to become the next helmsman at NUVO — and the latter listened and then did some due diligence.

His research informed him that this would be the right job at the right time, so now Janes has another business card for his collection.

In a wide-ranging interview, he said he expects that there will be another wave of consolidation in the local banking sector, one that will lead to the arrival of larger (usually out-of-town) players, and the creation of growth opportunities for smaller community banks, like NUVO.

“At some point, there has to be consolidation; someone is going to have to sell out, or someone is going to have to get together with someone else,” he said by way of analyzing the local market and the prospects for the foreseeable future. “That’s how the cycles work.”

Job Interest

Janes admitted that, before he eventually said ‘yes’ to Chase, he had some doubts about whether to take him up on his offer.

“When I first heard of this, I was somewhat skeptical,” he recalls. “Not because of NUVO specifically, but because this was a quasi-startup — it was a year old. I asked myself, ‘is this what I want to do right now?’”

It was his extended due-diligence period, including several lengthy talks with Chase, but also with countless others he knew within the industry, that enabled him to eventually answer in the affirmative. “As I continued to talk with him [Chase], I came to realize that this was what I was looking for — an opportunity and a challenge; I really wanted to run my own show,” he said. “I wanted to stay local; I’m committed to this market, and I’ve spent most of my life here. I knew that if I could stay in this market, I wanted to do that, and this was an opportunity that would allow me to do that.”

Elaborating, he said that what drew him to NUVO — where he succeeds Jim Gardner, who, with President Jeff Sattler, opened the bank roughly a year ago — was “what I heard and what I know.”

Regarding the former, from Chase and many others, he heard that NUVO was off to a solid start, the sluggish economy notwithstanding, and that its message — about personable banking and a hard focus on commercial lending to small and mid-sized businesses — was resonating.

As for what he knows? For starters, he knows that the bank actually caught a break from the delays, resulting mostly from difficulty raising the required capital, to its scheduled opening, which was originally close to a year earlier. Had the bank opened as planned, it would likely now have some troublesome loans on the books, said Janes, adding that, while the middle of a deep recession is not exactly good timing for a new bank, in this case, it was a blessing.

“That later opening kept them from extending themselves in the wrong places,” he explained. “It allowed a lot of things to come out in the economy about banks that was negative, and that helped them.”

Meanwhile, Janes says he also knows the local market and its players. Describing the landscape, he said it has “great institutions with great people.” However, he then continued with a heavily weighted “but…”

Indeed, some of these institutions are headquartered outside the market, he told BusinessWest, and many of them have changed or are changing their relationships with what would be considered smaller customers.

“These are all good banks, but they’ve all had problems with the economy, and they’ve all had to adjust their balance sheets; they did what I would do if I was in their shoes,” he explained. “But a portion of their client base gets squeezed.

“We’re a state-chartered commercial bank, probably the only one in Western Mass. Our focus is on small-to-mid-sized businesses; we want to be the commercial bank for small businesses.”

Thus, timing played a significant role in this career decision, said Janes, adding that NUVO stands to gain market share from those banks that, for whatever reason, have to make changes in their relationships with small-business owners.

“There’s been some opportunity created for us,” he said. “We don’t need big market share the first couple of years … we just need to build some good, solid relationships.”

And Janes believes his blend of experience and leadership will help NUVO in that assignment, work that is already very much under way.

The Bottom Line

Summing up his career choice, Janes said the basic task at NUVO is to stay focused, keep things simple, and take care of the customer.

All those things were hard to do back in the late ’80s and ’90s, when he was merging, getting merged, letting people go, and collecting business cards.

He hopes, and expects, that he won’t be adding any more any time soon, because he has want he’s wanted for some time now — an opportunity, a challenge, and a chance to run his own show.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]

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