Continuity and Change
Glenn Welch Takes the Reins at Hampden BankGlenn Welch, the new president and COO of Hampden Bank, takes over with an informal philosophy of not trying to fix anything that isn’t broken — and this encompasses most all strategic initiatives at the nearly 160-year-old institution. For now, his primary focus is on seizing opportunities to grow the commercial portfolio presented by improving confidence among business owners and what Welch called “concern with larger-bank relationships and where they’re headed.”
Glenn Welch is one of many area bankers who had his or her name on many different business cards in the late ’80s and ’90s — and usually not by choice.
“I had a lot of them, and I think I still have them … they’re in my desk somewhere,” said Welch, referring to a collection that resulted from a spate of mergers, failures, and downsizings involving names that have long since disappeared from the business landscape — like Third National, Bank of New England West, Shawmut, BayBank, Comfed Savings, and Fleet.
Soon, Welch can add another card to the pile, if he ever finds it. Indeed, the new card identifying him as president and COO of Hampden Bank will be arriving shortly, meaning he won’t need the one he’s still using announcing him as “executive vice president and division executive of the Business Banking Group.”
On Nov. 30, Welch was named successor to Tom Burton, long-time president and CEO at Hampden, who is retiring but taking the title chairman and CEO during a transition period.
Welch believes that, if all goes as planned, this could very well be his last business card. In fact, it’s an unofficial goal to make sure it is. He plans on being here a while, and he believes the Hampden name will endure as well, even as he acknowledged that the institution is certainly the subject of rumors regarding the next local target for merger or acquisition.
“The board of directors, by deciding to go with an in-house candidate, shows that it’s comfortable with the plan we have in place to bring it forward and grow the bank to the level that we need to to satisfy our investors,” he said. “But it’s a crowded market, and there is a lot of capital in this market.”
For now, Welch is focused on continuing a strong pattern of growth knitted by Burton during his 17-year tenure as president, during which the bank doubled in size, from $250 million to more than $500 million, and went public in 2007.
The pace of growth slowed over the past few years, as it did at most all area banks, as the Great Recession took its toll on everything from mortgage volume to commercial lending. Still, Hampden has been on a pace to add roughly a branch a year, with the latest additions coming in Longmeadow (the second office there) and Boston Road in Springfield, and it is has been holding its own in a highly competitive commercial-lending arena.
“The difficulty was, we just weren’t seeing any loan growth — businesses just weren’t able or willing to borrow,” he explained. “We were sitting on a ton of capital, like a lot of other banks in this area, and really found it difficult to put it to good use.”
But as the economy improves, slowly but surely, Welch says he’s seeing signs of progress, especially on the commercial side of the ledger. It comes in many forms, from what he can see — more applications for loans to expand or build new — and what he can sense, namely greater confidence on the part of business owners.
“We’re seeing a lot of loan demand on the commercial side — there’s a huge backlog,” he said, adding that he expects many deals to close over the next several months. “Some of this demand is new business, which is exciting, such as an assisted-living facility that will generate about 100 jobs. There’s an addition to another assisted-living facility, a few precision-machining companies that are looking at new buildings and equipment … things are happening.”
Summing up what he believes his ascension to the presidency at Hampden means, Welch said it represents both continuity and change.
The former comes mostly in a continuation of growth strategies, internal programs — such as ‘Hampden College,’ aimed at building team and leadership skills (more on that later), and philanthropic initiatives within the community that were laid out by Burton and the leadership team, said Welch. Meanwhile, with change comes opportunities, fueled by an improving economy and frustration with regional institutions, to move those strategic initiatives forward.
“There is a sense of urgency,” he told BusinessWest in a wide-ranging interview a month after he took his new office. “We do need to grow and become more profitable; the pressure is there to perform.”
Welch arrived at what was then Hampden Savings Bank in 1998, after accumulating more than a dozen of those aforementioned business cards.
When asked what brought him to the Harrison Avenue institution, he paused for a minute, noting that there was a funny story behind it and he wasn’t sure if he should tell it. (He eventually decided he could, because the party in question was no longer working in the area).
Attempting to make a long story short, he said he was working at what was then Fleet National Bank (now Bank of America) and, following the departure of a colleague, was in line for one of the small corner offices within the Monarch tower, a step up from the high cubicle he was occupying. The last office to be apportioned was awarded based on tenure, but Welch, who led the field in that category, was told that this time, things would be different.
“First, he said, ‘maybe we’ll go by goals,’ which was fine with me because because I hit my goals that year. But then, he said, ‘I was thinking we’d draw cards,’” said Welch, working hard to keep a straight face. “We sat in his office, and three of us drew for high card; I went first and got a 3, the next guy drew a 6, and the winner of the office drew a 9. That was one of the final straws; right around that time I saw an ad — Hampden Bank was looking for an ‘eclectic’ commercial lender.’”
Welch said he had no idea what ‘eclectic’ meant in this context, but he applied anyway, and soon thereafter joined a small but growing commercial-lending department that would play a key role in the bank’s steady growth and the expansion of its footprint in Western Mass.
Backing up a bit, actually nearly 20 years, Welch said he entered Western New England College with the goal of becoming an engineer. “ I think that lasted a semester,” he recalled. “I took a few labs and knew it wasn’t for me. I just happened to be pretty good with numbers and liked the accounting and finance courses I took, and that’s how I ended up with a finance degree.”
Upon graduation from Western New England, he took a job with Household Finance, which, among other things, provided high-interest, real-estate-backed loans to struggling families — “that was a depressing place to start a career” — before joining Bank of New England West as a field examiner in the Commercial Finance Department. In that role, he conducted on-site field examinations of books and records for customers and prospects.
From there, he moved on to to BayBank Valley Trust Co., where he served as a credit officer in the Commercial Loan Department, and then as a secured lending auditing officer. Next came an ill-fated decision to follow a supervisor to ComFed Savings Bank, which had acquired the old Northeast Savings, where he served, briefly, as a commercial loan officer.
“That was my opportunity to get into commercial lending, because he asked me to go with him,” Welch explained. “And six months later, he had to ask me to look for a job, because ComFed was failing and they were eliminating the commercial-lending group.”
He then moved back to Bank of New England, later to fail and be rescued by Fleet, and rose to the title of vice president and ‘relationship manager’ in the Middle Market Banking Group, where he managed an $80 million commercial-loan portfolio consisting of 37 account relationships. During his tenure there, he completed his quest for an MBA at UMass Amherst through its evening program, focusing his capstone course on the demise of Bank of New England and the lessons to be learned from it.
Living through that tumultuous period in local banking history was difficult, especially at BNE/Fleet. “It was tough over there — I survived a lot of different downsizing,” he said of his time in the Monarch tower, which eventually ended not long after he drew that 3.
As for what’s in the cards for Hampden Bank, Welch said he expects a continuation of the programs that have helped fuel recent growth for the institution, especially a hard focus on growth in commercial lending.
By All Accounts
Returning to the subject of continuity, Welch said he plans to carry on with a number of programs initiated during Burton’s tenure to not only grow the bank, but strengthen the team running it.
In that latter category, he mentioned everything from quarterly meetings with the staffs handling the branches to keep them informed and connected — “they tend to feel alienated from the main office” — to Hampden College.
Staged in the spring and summer, this initiative involves after-hours courses (always well-attended) on leadership, diversity, and other timely and relevant issues.
“We had four members of the board of directors speak to employees last year as part of the program,” said Welch, adding that the broad objective of Hampden College is to “build better bankers.”
At the same time, the bank has staged a number of external forums — open to area business owners and managers — on subjects ranging from health care reform to taking a small business to the next level. “There’s an educational component to these, obviously,” he explained, “but these are also great networking opportunities, and for the bank, we are developing relationships with people we may not have relationships with.”
Overall, Welch said his primary goal moving forward is to continue and in many ways accelerate the bank’s ongoing evolution from a true savings bank to a multi-faceted institution with a strong mix of consumer and commercial products.
“We used to be for your home mortgage and grandma’s CD,” he said of the bank’s basic mission until only a few decades ago. “We’re trying to change that.”
He said the timing is good for growth in commercial lending, and for several reasons. The improving economy and pent-up demand he mentioned are big parts of it, but so is the growing sense of frustration many business owners and managers have with regional and super-regional banks, a phenomenon that has led to opportunities for many area banks.
“I think 2012 looks promising for the community banks,” he said. “The reason is we’ve turned the corner, in my opinion — people are starting to get more comfortable and are borrowing for projects. But the other side of it is the fact that community banks have real opportunity, especially in this area, a smaller city like ours — we’re here, and the decisions are made here, and there are a lot of people who are concerned with their larger-bank relationship and where it’s headed.
“There were a lot of people who were waiting to make sure that the light at the end of the tunnel, as they say, wasn’t an oncoming train,” he continued, while noting the recent uptick in business on the commercial side of the ledger. “We’re seeing pretty healthy demand in a lot of different areas.”
In many ways, Welch said, Hampden’s goal is to borrow, in some ways, from the model forged by Bank of Western Mass. (now People’s United), meaning the establishment of broad customer relationships propelled by the business side of such associations.
“What we really want to do is grow the commercial portfolio, along with all the other things we’re doing strategically,” he explained, “and allow the commercial portfolio to drive the growth in residential and commercial deposits, because we’re trying to become the bank for those businesses.”
Meanwhile, the bank intends to continue its strong record of philanthropy, punctuated by a recent $150,000 donation to cover operating expenses incurred by those leading the Rebuild Springfield efforts in the wake of the June 1 tornadoes.
Welch, the current chairman of the board of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, chair of the Springfield Enterprise Center, and board member of DevelopSpringfield, said he plans to continue these and other endeavors in the realm of community service. But most of his energies will be on the bank and the strategic initiatives he described.
“We have plans in place,” he said, “and we’re comfortable we can carry them out and that they’ll lead to significant growth.”
Making a Statement
Welch noted that Hampden Bank will turn 160 years old in April, joining MassMutual in that milestone of longevity, and reaching rarified air among companies based in this region.
He expects the bank to celebrate many more anniversaries and continue to grow its footprint regionally.
As for his career, well, he doesn’t think he’ll be adding to his business-card portfolio any time soon. He believes he and his bank are in the right place at the right time — and will be for the foreseeable future.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]