Peyton R. Patterson '78 describes herself as "tenacious." Add a few other qualities-imaginative, astute, fearless, diplomatic, visionary-and you begin to grasp the character underlying an extraordinary career in the world of banking.
That career hit a new height last year, when Patterson orchestrated one of the largest and most complex, and arguably one of the most contentious, merger-conversions in American banking history. The merger-conversion combined three Connecticut-based banks into a new, $6-billion financial institution, NewAlliance Bank. Patterson serves as chairman, president, and chief executive officer.
"No other bank leader has fostered more change-nor weathered more controversy-during the past year than Peyton Patterson," wrote U.S. Banker magazine in October, when it published its 2004 ranking of the twenty-five most powerful women in the field. The magazine, which assessed more than five thousand female executives, judging them on their contributions to their firms, their communities, and the banking industry, placed Patterson in the number-two spot.
Patterson's rise to banking prominence is rooted in a strong, balanced record at Kenyon. The Washington, D.C., native majored in political science and spent a semester in Paris with the Institute of European Studies. Outside of class, she helped to establish the women's basketball team and played center forward for the Ladies. She also played field hockey, soccer, and tennis.
She went on to earn an MBA from George Washington University and entered banking as a product manager and then branch manager. Thirteen years of moving steadily up through the ranks brought her to DimeBancorp, where she was executive vice president of consumer financial services, and where she found a mentor in Dime CEO Lawrence Toal.
She was not shy about telling him that she wanted to be a CEO herself. "Everyone needs a life plan," says Patterson. "You have to set goals, and let people around you and above you know that these are things you aspire to."
In 2001, she got a call from New Haven Savings Bank, a depositor-owned mutual bank in New Haven, Connecticut, that enjoyed a strong community identity but that was suffering from a decline in earnings, a complacent corporate culture, and stiff competition. Taking over as CEO in January 2002, Patterson gave the bank a bracing "jump start," as she puts it. She focused attention on boosting the numbers of both retail and business customers, widening the variety of products and services, training staff, and advertising more aggressively-and creatively. One promotion offered prizes, including the chance to have a bank executive mow your lawn. The grand prize was a gourmet dinner cooked by Patterson.
She cooked up some superb results at the bank as well. In just over two years under her leadership, the bank increased its assets from $2.5 billion to $6.23 billion, while the number of branches rose from thirty-six to seventy-four. Patterson, meanwhile, who had already been active in civic organizations, expanded her philanthropic commitments, contributing her time and expertise to the boards of the local arts council, the Yale-New Haven Hospital, and the United Way of Greater New Haven.
The New Haven Savings Bank "had a lot of capital that had never been deployed, and when I saw the landscape in Connecticut, I thought, 'Nobody is looking at partnerships that might be created.' I began a network by talking to CEOs, and lo and behold, a larger bank came to us expressing interest." The bank was expensive, and Patterson turned her attention to a smaller institution-which she realized would be too small to buy on its own.
"Then, on Mother's Day in 2003, it came to me," she recalls. "Why am I thinking of buying one or the other? Why don't
we buy both?"
That was the genesis of the merger-conversion, which involved the acquisition of the Savings Bank of Manchester and Tolland Bank-and which, in turn, entailed raising money by taking New Haven Savings public. The result was the largest initial public offering (IPO) in banking history. And a storm of critcism.
Opponents ranged from New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who sensed a threat to the city's last independent financial institution, to depositors who wanted to preserve New Haven Savings as a mutual bank and thus objected to the IPO. There was a protest march, and some six hundred depositors signed a petition vowing to close their accounts if the merger went through.
Patterson responded by meeting with her critics and making some concessions, but she didn't waver on her vision for a new, stronger bank. In the end, the IPO sold out in its first round-entirely to depositors-and raised nearly $2 billion. In early 2004, NewAlliance was born.
Then came the challenge of integrating the three institutions and "rebranding" the new entity. The name "really underscored our mission," says Patterson, "which was a new alliance of customers, communities, and shareholders." NewAlliance's slogan, "Capital Ideas, Human Values," embodies the new bank's aspirations, she adds.
She takes human values seriously in her personal life as well. In addition to her philanthropic work, she has held fund-raisers for Democratic Party candidates, following in the footsteps of her late mother, a party activist and strong role model who raised her alone while working as an editor at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Like her mother, Patterson is raising her seven-year-old daughter as a single parent. She is also delighted that her stepdaughter-Kenyon sophomore Elizabeth Neustaetter-is enjoying the terrific education that the school provides.
"I have a small family but a lot of friends," Patterson says. "I've cultivated a group around me that I know I can count on. I think you can never lose sight of the balance that you have to strike."
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