TD Bank bought the bank that Vernon Hill built. Now it's laying claim to a book he once wrote about it as well.
That is because the former Commerce Bank founder reprised large hunks of a manuscript now owned by TD in his book Fans! Not Customers: How to Create Growth Companies in a No-Growth World (Profile Books, Nov. 2012), according to a complaint filed on Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey,
Hill's publicist Tom Goodman emailed a statement to American Banker declaring the book to be the "original and authentic work of Vernon Hill and [co-author] Bob Andelman," adding that the book was transparently "about Metro Bank," a U.K. financial institution that Hill subsequently founded.
In a statement emailed to American Banker, TD said it would "act to vigorously protect its property rights."
American Banker, which had published excerpts from the former New Jersey Bank executive's book, learned of the suit when TD Bank's outside counsel, Simpson Thatcher, demanded that the excerpts be pulled from its website due to alleged copyright violations. The publication of such work has caused TD "irreparable harm," the complaint states.
American Banker removed the excerpts pending the outcome of the litigation and directed readers seeking them to the full text of TD's complaint.
Both the excerpts and the book focus on Hill's philosophy of providing energetic customer service and building brand loyalty, which Commerce exemplified with such flourishes as offering dog treats for customers' pets, remaining open 10 minutes beyond posted business hours and providing pens that were not tethered to counters.
Hill has since gone on to implement variations of his strategy in Britain's Metro Bank. Fans! Not Customers draws on those experiences. But it also includes large chunks of text that also appear in a manuscript that TD says was part of its 2007 buyout of Commerce. Terms such as "Retailtainment" and "AMAZE! Patrol" appear in both manuscripts.
"Hill has willfully copied a 2007 book manuscript in which TD Bank owns the copyright," TD's complaint says, citing a 2007 document in which it claims Hill agreed that the manuscript was the property of his former bank. Neither TD or Commerce ever published the manuscript whose copyrights they claim to own, however.
Hill stepped down at Commerce in June of 2007 — prior to its acquisition by TD — amid a probe by regulators of related party real estate transactions with the bank. (No charges were filed, though Hill did agree to a consent order with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency).
Bad blood between Hill and his former bank ensued. He opposed the TD Bank acquisition and sued the already-acquired Commerce in January of 2008 over $50 million that the bank allegedly owed to him and an architectural firm owned by his wife for design work on Commerce branches.
In his statement to American Banker, Hill's spokesman dismissed TD's suit as its "latest attempt to distract from the multi-million dollar lawsuit that Mr. Hill brought against TD Bank."
TD's suit appears to be a rushed affair. TD filed for copyright protection on Hill's 2007 manuscript only on Nov. 16, according to a document filed by Simpson Thatcher. According to TD, Hill is seeking to regain copyrights as part of his outstanding lawsuit against the bank.
Fans! Not Customers was ranked 29,275 by Amazon on Wednesday. The sole review for the book is effusive, however: according to user Samfreene, readers will gain invaluable insights into retail, banking, and other subjects.
"Get a copy of the book for your friends," Samfreene advises in a five-star review. He has been similarly laudatory in reviews of The Garbage Man's Daughter: Letting Go of Shame, Here Comes Pixie Pie: Her Special Day At The Rodeo Fair, and the 200-plus other, exclusively five-star Amazon reviews he's penned since April.
For those not inclined to buy the book, the original Commerce Bank era manuscript and a full edition of Hill's book are also available in the appendix to TD's complaint.