Spotlight on Executives: Chuck Leach / Lee Bank | Business
PITTSFIELD – Chuck Leach didn’t take the usual route to his current position.
Leach, Chairman and CEO of Lee Bank since July 2015, prepared for his role by working for many years in wealth management, a financial industry which he says is not the traditional path taken. by those who plan to run financial institutions.
But, taking a different path is part of Leach’s nature.
The Farmington, Connecticut native majored in government at Colby College, and he attended the Institute for European Studies, an academic think tank in Belgium, as an undergraduate student, before deciding to make banking his career.
He has competed as a cyclist on several occasions in the annual Josh Billings RunAground triathlon, completing the bike stage for his team, Minkler Insurance, in 2018, despite losing a pedal during the race. How many bank presidents can say that?
We recently spoke with Leach about his path to becoming bank president, how the current economic downturn has affected community banks, compared to the Great Recession, why Lee Bank invested in activating Pittsfield’s ShotSpotter technology and his team’s hopes of winning the Josh this year.
Q How does a government major become a banker? Have you thought about politics after college?
A Back when I went to college I was interested in a variety of different fields, which is obviously why I went to liberal arts college. I was thinking about law school at the time, but also about business, keeping all my options open. That’s really what I hope for the liberal arts, I think.
Q So why did you choose the bank?
A I think I’ve always been intrigued by what makes businesses work, what makes businesses succeed or fail. This led me to pursue my MBA [at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University in California].
The gist of an MBA is really to study business. My MBA program had a strong emphasis on case studies, really looking at examples of successful businesses and examples of unsuccessful businesses. I think you apply that not only to who we loan to, but also to how we design our own strategy for Lee Bank as we try to be as successful as possible.
Q Why did you enter the field through wealth management?
A I returned to the region [Berkshire County, in 1999] work for an investment firm. Again, this is all part of the analysis of what makes businesses successful or unsuccessful. So that sort of thing naturally leads you into the investment management business, and from there I ended up working in the investment business with banks.
It’s starting to spread more into wealth management, financial planning, and relationship management. So that’s what turned out to be a very, very good progression and flow for me for me, sort of extending beyond investments but just overall to ensure the well-being of someone from other. This is really what wealth management is.
To go further, what is interesting about running a community bank is that we are in fact investors in our community. Nobody really thinks that way, but we are deploying capital in our community. So it requires in a way the same level of analytical rigor as that of an investment advisor.
Q What are the similarities between wealth management and community bank management?
A For me, I think one of the most important similarities is just treating people’s finances and their financial situations with a high degree of care. This is always the approach I have taken in wealth management.
It is very sacred ground. People aren’t just a black box, and when you get into community banking, especially mutual savings bank, it’s very similar. People shouldn’t be treated like a number. Each case should be treated with the utmost care. There should be a relationship built with that person.
Q It is an interesting approach to manage a bank.
A On the surface, I know I was a very unorthodox candidate to lead Lee Bank. The DNA of your typical bank president is that he came in some way through business loans or finance. But I come from a completely different field.
Q Was your goal to be a bank president?
A Honestly, it wasn’t. I hadn’t really thought about it until the opportunity presented itself. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a great opportunity it was to keep progressing, to challenge myself, to make myself a little uncomfortable as I was chasing something that was out of the picture. the scope of what I had been doing for the past 20 years.
I think the most important thing was the opportunity to make a difference.
I worked for a much bigger bank [Berkshire Bank] that was pursuing an expansion strategy, and I’m more in tune with customers and employees than with shareholders, so it was really in my wheelhouse to work for a mutual savings bank.
Q Did you need to make a lot of adjustments?
A There was a huge learning curve. People who were raised in banking, in commercial banking, or on the branch side or in compliance or finance, there’s a vernacular going on there. …
I’ve always known it out of the corner of my eye when working in wealth management, but I had never really been in the thick of it. So I had to learn all of this by leading a board meeting until I really understood bank plumbing. …
I’ll be honest, there were some points of uncertainty for me. But, that was kind of the point, and I kind of made my way through that. And this is the advantage of a liberal arts training. You know how to learn new things, and it happened at the right time in my life. I was ready for this challenge.
Q What are the challenges that community banks face in coming out of the pandemic? Are there any comparisons to what happened during the Great Recession, when many community banks merged to survive or were bought out by bigger banks?
A I can tell you that a year ago the vets of the bank I work with said it sounded a lot like ’08 -’09. We are very worried.
The difference, I think, was that the federal government and the banks in general were more nimble, they reacted a lot faster. Although we were very aggressive with our reserve, we really didn’t have any issues with the quality of the assets. [bad loans or credit complications].
Very importantly, as you probably remember, there was a hangover between ’08 -’09 that lasted four or five years in terms of investing and taking risk. It really shook people up.
I think people are still rocked by this, but I have great optimism right now, especially for Berkshire County. I think the influx of people coming here, the appeal of an area like this right now, there are a lot of good things going on. I think that’s a huge difference.
Q Lee Bank recently established a $ 5 million foundation to donate to the community. Why did your bank give the city of Pittsfield $ 5,000 for the police to activate their ShotSpotter system four years ago?
A I went upstairs and listened to the ShotSpotter pitch, and just thought that as a community bank this was something we should be doing to try and help the chef. [Michael] Wynn and Pittsfield police and to make things safer.
I think as a stakeholder in downtown Pittsfield [where Lee Bank has a branch], that it was something we had to do. …
I had a few sales to do with the advice on this one. But, it made sense. … Hope this helps.
Q Minkler Insurance finished fourth overall for Josh in 2019. Are you going to win it all this year?
A The team will come back. I’m getting older, so the likelihood that I can help this team is very low, unfortunately. Tim [team leader Tim Minkler] recruits a very fast young rider every year so maybe that gives us a chance to fight.