By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — Longtime Provident Bank executive Charlie Cullen has announced that he will be stepping down as the bank’s president and CEO as part of a planned executive leadership transition process years in the making.
Cullen will remain with the Amesbury-based bank as executive chairman, meaning he will take over as chairman of the board while maintaining a day-to-day presence at the bank’s offices throughout the transition period. His former duties as president and CEO will be divided between two top executives, which he said would better position the bank going forward while allowing it to maintain its top talent.
Dave Mansfield, formerly executive vice president and chief financial officer, will take over as CEO and will be responsible for the bank’s daily operations, while Charles Withee, formerly executive vice president and senior loan officer, will become president and will run the bank’s commercial lending arm while functioning as “the face of the bank,” Cullen said.
The moves were approved yesterday by the bank’s board of directors.
In his 10 years at the bank, Cullen has become well known as the face of the Provident in the Newburyport area, taking on some public roles that are far from traditional for a bank president. With fanfare and humor he leads his employees in Amesbury’s annual Santa Parade, and he strums his ukulele to accompany his own homecooked songs roasting local politicians at an annual St. Patrick’s Day charity fundraiser in Newburyport. He’s also had more traditional leadership roles in organizations such as Anna Jaques Hospital and Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce.
In his new role, Cullen will still initially be the top figure at the bank, but he will stay on for three more years while Mansfield and Withee settle into their new roles so that ultimately they will be the ones to lead the bank into the future.
“My primary role today is unchanged from yesterday, I’m still in charge,” said Cullen, who lives in Amesbury and grew up in Rowley. “But my role is to transition this organization so by the time I leave here in three years, the duties and responsibilities of this position have been smoothly transitioned to these guys.”
Cullen said the bank’s goal was to have the transition occur in as visible a manner as possible so that the community members, Provident staff and the bank’s regulators all could see what was going on. He added that they felt it was important to begin the transition well in advance to avoid the disruptions that a last-minute change could have brought.
“We’ve worked on this for a long time,” Cullen said. “We’ve talked about it for at least a couple of years, the board embraced it over a year ago and now we felt this was the right time at our annual meeting to make the announcement.”
As for the future of the Provident, Cullen said the bank intends to grow but will remain true to its Amesbury roots. Cullen noted the past 12 years have posed numerous challenges for banks — fallout from the Sept. 11 attacks, the housing market collapse of 2006, the banking and Wall Street turmoil of 2007 and 2008, and strict new government regulations. The cost of complying with the regulations is substantial and has made it necessary for the bank to grow in order to remain strong. The Provident has responded by expanding its banking operations in New Hampshire, particularly its commercial lending.
In addition to naming Cullen executive chairman, the board also voted to appoint both Mansfield and Withee to the bank’s board as well. Former CEO Bob Becker, who has been chairman of the board since 2004, will also remain on the board for another year.
Prior to joining The Provident Bank in 2001 as chief financial officer, Mansfield worked as a federal banking regulator with the FDIC and at the Office of Comptroller of the Currency. In those roles he supervised everything from small community banks to the largest and most complex national banks.
He is also currently a finance committee member at Anna Jaques Hospital and West Newbury’s representative to the Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School, and has held several other roles in community organizations over the years as well.
Withee joined the bank in 2004 as senior vice president and senior loan officer, and before that he spent 15 years in senior management at both the First and Ocean National Bank and KeyBank. He’s also held numerous positions in the community, notably as vice chairman of the Anna Jaques Community Health Foundation and previously as the chairman of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and as president of the Newburyport Rotary Club.
Cullen, Mansfield and Withee have each served in their current roles together for nearly 10 years, and Cullen offered high praise for both Mansfield and Withee and said both were clearly ready to step into their new roles.
Mansfield and Withee each said they’re excited for the opportunity to continue working together.
“We do complement each other really well, we’re both highly competitive in a team-oriented way, we want the bank to do its best and create the best experience for our customers,” Mansfield said. “Chuck’s been leading the commercial lending side of this team, while I’ll be looking at the inside of the bank, all the operations, working with branding and people.”
“These aren’t new people being thrust together, we know each other, and while I don’t finish Dave’s sentences, it’s close,” Withee said. “We’re on the same page, and we’re looking forward to this.”
Established in 1828, The Provident Bank is an independent, mutually owned community bank with a focus in commercial lending and business services. Besides its main offices in Amesbury, the bank also has branches in Newburyport, Exeter, Hampton, Portsmouth and Seabrook along with additional lending offices in Bedford and Nashua, N.H.