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CEO: Changes help bank move forward

Posted: April 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Recent changes at the Bank of Santa Clarita were made by the board of directors, said Frank Di Tomaso in response to questions about the departure of James Hicken and Kimberly Altobello, two of the bank’s top executives.

The changes leave Di Tomaso as executive chairman of the board and interim CEO and president of the bank that was founded in 2004.

“The directors made decisions to change positions at the senior management level,” Di Tomaso said Friday. “These changes will help us as a bank move forward.”

Altobello reported earlier that she did not resign. She said she was “terminated without cause” on Feb. 24. Hicken reportedly left the bank April 6.

Di Tomaso said the bank could not comment on their departures because it does not discuss personnel issues.

The bank plans to expand, and Di Tomaso said only that the vision of the executives did not all match.

The Bank of Santa Clarita wants to expand commercial and retail lending by opening loan production offices in other geographic areas, Di Tomaso said.

It is also eyeing merger and acquisition opportunities, he said, adding that the bank is probably a couple of years away from taking such action, but that it is well-capitalized.

“I would expect a financial institution based out here to be aggressive as the other banks have been,” said Jeff Pollard, one of the original key three executives to form the bank.

The chance of the bank selling itself is good as its assets are sizable enough to make it attractive to other banks, said Pollard, a local resident who currently serves as the executive vice president and CFO of the Glendale-based Americas United Bank.

“Other, larger financial institutions are buying because they can’t expand lending easily or fast enough,” Pollard said.

While Di Tomaso said, “Never say never” if an offer to be acquired were to be made, he said no offers have been made and that the vision of the Bank of Santa Clarita’s board is to accelerate growth by changing its sales culture, Di Tomaso said.

The changes on the leadership team were made to streamline operations, he said.

“The board felt it was necessary to have fewer tiers (of management) and eliminated the middle tier,” he said of Altobello’s position. The bank is not looking to streamline or eliminate any other positions, he said.

Di Tomaso said he spent last week speaking to as many investors as he could identify, reassuring shareholders that everything is fine with the bank and fine with the regulators.

No one expressed unhappiness with Altobello’s or Hicken’s exit, he said.

“Everyone will be concerned about Hicken’s departure,” investor Dan Baldwin said earlier last week. “But at this point in time, I haven’t heard anything from anybody so I couldn’t comment.”

In speaking with investors, Di Tomaso also said he reassured all that the first quarter financials are fine.

In its latest released results, the bank reported net earnings for the fourth quarter of 2011 totaling $223,000 as compared to $104,000 for the fourth quarter of 2010.

The bank also reported a $418,000 growth in pretax earnings, which totaled $380,000 for the fourth quarter of 2011, as compared to a pre-tax loss of $38,000 for the fourth quarter of 2010.

Net earnings for the bank totaled $381,000 and $569,000 for the years ended Dec. 31, 2011 and 2010, respectively, while pre-tax earnings totaled $613,000 and $267,000, respectively, for those two years.

Asked about rumors of a power struggle within the bank, Di Tomaso denied one exists.

The differences were in philosophies, vision, growth and delivering product, Di Tomaso said.

“We all hate to see Jim go, but I’m still very positive about the future of the bank under Frank. The bank has a bright future,” said Dwight Ham, member of the board.

It will be about nine to 12 months before the board makes a decision on the president and CEO position, said Di Tomaso. In the meantime, it is not a conflict of interest for him to serve in all roles, he said.

The board of directors includes Hicken. The board is comprised of 11 members, the maximum allowed unless amended by the board members.

While most of the board members are residents of Santa Clarita, at least three are from outside the region, which Di Tomaso said helps when the bank begins to expand into preferred markets of northern Los Angeles County, Ventura County and the Antelope Valley.

“The regulators wanted a diverse board with diverse backgrounds,” he said. “You can only get so many of these people from the Santa Clarita Valley.”

Of the three board members identified as living outside the area, one lives in Bakersfield and another in Long Beach – not in areas identified by the bank as strategic locations for its growth.

Still, the bank with 38 employees has its sights set on growth and expansion, which include becoming more sales
oriented while still delivering a high-end product, Di Tomaso said.

“We want to change the sales culture to accelerate growth.”

Preparing for future growth, the Bank of Santa Clarita is building a 15,000-square-foot facility in the Valencia Commerce Center to house its operations. The land was purchased in February and the bank expects the new building to be ready for business in the first quarter of 2013, Di Tomaso said.

Bank shares were trading at $7.80 on April 9, the day Hicken’s departure was announced, but closed at $7.39 at close of trading on Wednesday. Shares of the bank, however, have been steadily climbing since Jan. 13, when they traded for $6.15 per share.


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