By Tom Loughan, Strictly Business
Used with permission from Strictly Business
It was a watershed moment for the little Lake Champlain community of Willsboro, New York, when Augustus G. Paine, Jr. arrived in 1885. He came to manage the local pulp mill taken over by his father, a New York City banker, in a mortgage foreclosure.
As A.G. Paine, Jr. brought the mill back to prosperity, his fortunes grew and he settled permanently in Willsboro, raised a family, and acquired an estate that today encompasses over 1,000 acres on Willsboro Point. He built Flat Rock Camp in the Adirondack Great Camp style. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. His heirs have maintained it and lived there continuously ever since.
Most importantly, he became a community minded citizen, a benefactor of Willsboro and a benevolent steward of his land. The third through sixth generations of A.G.’s family currently live on or visit the estate frequently and the prominent and respected family carrying on his values and vision.
Perhaps the best example of the Paine family’s adherence to their forefather’s vision is Champlain National Bank. In 1923, A.G. Paine, Jr. started the Essex County Bank, believing that a local bank could best serve the needs of a small community. In a merger in 1959 with the Westport-based Lake Champlain National Bank, Champlain National Bank was formed with the Paine family remaining the dominant shareholder. In an industry where the whales of banking often swallow smaller institutions like minnows, successive generations of Paines have remained resolute in keeping family control of CNB as an independent local bank.
That philosophy, plus sound management, kept the bank strong throughout the recent Great Recession as well as other crises. Headquartered in Willsboro, today Champlain National serves Clinton and Essex counties with nine offices sprinkled north to south from Champlain to Crown Point and west to Lake Placid and Keene.
Board Chairman Peter S. Paine, Jr., A.G. Paine’s grandson, recently announced a record net income of $1.8 million. Jon Cooper, CNB’s president and CEO who had presided over a period of record of earnings the past six years, retired at the end of 2012.
Thus, on February 15th, Champlain National welcomed its new president and CEO Joseph P. Shaw in what seems to be a perfect match for each. The bank got an eminently qualified professional to guide its fortunes; Shaw realized his dream to work, live and play in the Adirondacks where he and his family have vacationed for years. Though born in the Bronx and raised in Harrison, New York, Shaw recalled that “my wife Deb and I spent our honeymoon in Lake Placid and we’ve been coming back to the area ever since to take advantage of all the Adirondacks offer.”
Shaw brings a wealth of banking and financial experience to his new position. He has a thoroughbred’s pedigree in education—prep school at Phillips Andover, Williams College and an MBA from Columbia University.
At Williams banking was not high on his career ambition. “I majored in German,” he said, “thinking I would go into science.” After graduation, his interest in science flagged as his father’s career and advice began to influence him. “My dad had just a high school education yet worked his way up from the lowest job at Citibank to become one of the highest executives in its world-wide operations. While I was at Columbia we had many discussions that convinced me I wanted a career in banking.”
Shaw began his career at Manufacturers Hanover Trust (JPMorgan Chase today) in 1978. Making use of his Williams College degree, he worked in the bank’s international division, speaking German with corporate clients and traveling to Germany several times. In 1984, he decided to leave the concrete confines of New York City, joining the Bank of New England where he handled large and middle-sized corporate accounts in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Two years later, “I decided to leave Bank of New England for Bank of Boston just before the financial downturn of ’87 (The Bank of New England was subsequently liquidated in 1991). I’d like to say I saw it coming, but my leaving was really one of many lucky decisions I’ve made in my career.”
For the next 14 years with Bank of Boston, Shaw became a director and senior loan officer for their Western Massachusetts operations in Springfield. He covered middle and large corporate accounts, his German still coming in handy dealing with some large Zurich customers.
During Shaw’s tenure, Bank of Boston was an active player in the mergers and spin-offs that proliferated in the ‘90s. In 2000, the bank sold its Western Massachusetts operations and Shaw found himself an employee of Spanish-owned Sovereign Bank (Bank of Boston eventually became part of Bank of America). He said, “I was concerned about the direction the industry was taking…and I needed a break.”
So began Joe Shaw’s year of living happily. He took a year off to travel the world devoting full time to his lifelong passion: canoe and kayak racing. In the previous decade he had somehow found the time to train and become a nine-time member of the U.S. Marathon Kayak Team competing around the world in such places as Nottingham, England, Amsterdam, Berlin, Melbourne, and Cape Town. “One year,” he recalled fondly, “I finished seventh in the World Cup and third out of 1500 kayakers and canoeists at the International Descent of the Sella River in Spain.” And of course he raced then as now on Adirondack waterways and Lake Champlain.
Today he remains a chair of the Marathon Sports Division of USA Canoe/Kayak, the committee responsible for selecting the U.S. team to compete in the World Championships.
Following what must have been a glorious sabbatical, Shaw eased back into the financial world in 2002. But rather than join a bank, he became a Business Intermediary, an advisor to companies looking to sell all or part of themselves. “I consulted with private companies in small to mid-sized markets, helping position them for the best possible transition of ownership. I enjoyed that experience and learned what drives companies’ decisions from their perspective.”
Lured back into banking after five years as a consultant, Shaw signed with New Alliance Bank in 2007. “Another lucky decision on my part,” he smiled. “The field of mergers and acquisitions tanked when the financial crisis hit.”
At New Alliance, he was First Vice President and Department Manager for business banking in Western Massachusetts. Two and a half years later, when First Niagara bought New Alliance, he was named Regional Team Leader for operations in Western Mass and Northern Connecticut. “I was responsible for all aspects of banking and managing their exposure to risk.
“I enjoyed those days at First Niagara, Shaw explained. “Even though I had been getting 20-30 calls a year to move, I never took an interview. But then an old friend told me about the opening at Champlain National.” The location in the Champlain Valley, the Paine family’s desire to remain independent and the opportunity to influence all areas of operations were too much for Joe Shaw and his wife Deb to resist.
For the Paine family, Shaw’s exemplary resume proved equally irresistible. Chairman Peter S. Paine, Jr., an avid outdoorsman himself, in a lighter aside during SB’s visit, spoke of the real clincher in Shaw’s hiring. “When Joe showed up at his interview with two kayaks and mountain bikes on his car, I knew he was our man.”
Six months into their new location, the Shaws have felt genuine warmth and welcome from the community. They have bought a house in nearby Essex while their two grown children stayed behind in Massachusetts to run the family organic farm and bed and breakfast. The couple has lost no time getting involved in community activities and sports. Like her husband, Deb is an accomplished canoeist, kayaker, biker and skier in her own right.
At work, Joe has found that any surprises he’s encountered are happy ones. “The Paine family is great to work with,” he said. “(Former CEO) Jon Cooper and the Board of Directors worked generously with me for a productive transition. The senior staff is extremely capable; all the staff is dedicated and there is very little turnover, which leads to great customer satisfaction. The level of technology is very high; some areas are more advanced than those of much larger banks.”
Shaw has bought into the Paine family’s plan to keep Champlain National independent. “This philosophy leads to making different decisions from larger banks,” he said. “We focus completely on our local area and whether what we do today will keep us independent decades from now. We don’t seek growth for growth sake like some larger banks. Our growth is determined solely by whether that growth will benefit the bank and our local communities. “Because most of our loans are local, we have a tendency to want to find a way to say ‘Yes’ to a borrower. We try hard to make it successful.”
Still, a careful approach to lending is important to keep a small independent strong among larger banks. “Our strength is being conservative on loan decisions. We’re tied to the local economy and our bread and butter loan is typically smaller than the larger banks. We keep an even mix of commercial, real estate and residential loans in our portfolio and resist exiting one or another as business cycles change. It’s meant we have a much better than average loan success rate.”
From his office in Willsboro, Shaw again cited his good fortune, this time at inheriting a great staff. “In my career I’ve been lucky to be able to recognize the value of a team. I believe you assemble a good team and get out of their way. I have no interest in top down leadership.”
Shaw’s immediate plans include evaluating upcoming projects for approving and administering business loans, revising the bank’s website and getting it more involved in social media and mobile banking.
“Our larger mission is to become more efficient, continue our sound earnings and serve our communities so well that there will never be a reason to have a larger bank take over Champlain National Bank.”
Augustus G. Paine, Jr. would undoubtedly approve of his descendants’ choice of Joe Shaw to help carry out that imperative.