Stephen Gordon and Genesis Financial Partners just aren't letting up.
Feeling snubbed by management of Abington Savings Bank after demanding concrete improvement in the Massachusetts thrift's performance, the founder of the California-based Genesis hedge fund has taken to the streets.
Just two weeks after firing off his first letter to Abington president and chief executive James P. McDonough, Mr. Gordon disclosed that he has already pitched his ideas for helping the thrift cut costs and boost earnings to other shareholders and potential investors. That includes other financial institutions in Abington's market area that are now talking takeover of the embattled thrift, he said in a Dec. 7 letter.
"As a result of these discussions, a number of financial institutions in your area have expressed to us their interest in Abington," Mr. Gordon wrote in his third letter to Mr. McDonough since Nov. 22. "It appears that certain of these institutions would be willing to pay considerable premiums to acquire Abington."
Mr. Gordon, a former bond salesman who worked with Abington while at Sandler O'Neill & Partners, cautioned that if another institution bought Abington, it would slash management and employees, reduce Abington's business lines, consolidate back-office operations, and possibly close branches. That would help the bank - as part of another institution's branch network - better serve its customers.
"These expense reductions would be dramatically greater than those which we have suggested," he said in the letter, adding: "If you are unwilling or unable to implement our proposed strategies, or better ones, then a sale of Abington would seem to be in the best interest of all shareholders."
Mr. McDonough dismissed Mr. Gordon's letter as "nothing more than a transparent attempt to put the bank in play."
"This is someone who's been in the stock for a little over a month who's suddenly going to tell us how to run our bank," he said. "Let there be no question about this. We're not going to play his game."
Mr. Gordon's aggressive strategy, though it hasn't won him any friends among bankers, has paid its first dividends. Last week, First Keystone Financial Inc., the Media, Pa.-based thrift Mr. Gordon has been targeting for criticism and improvement since late October, yielded to his demands.
After meeting with Genesis, thrift officials agreed to cut staff by 20% to 25% in the first quarter, consider a stock buyback program and a cash dividend policy, and reclassify some assets by yearend, allowing them to restructure the balance sheet and add to the bottom line.
The thrift also hired an investment banker to explore its strategic alternatives.
"What Stephen Gordon is attempting to do is show management that they have to think differently than they did five years ago," said Gerard Cassidy, bank analyst at Tucker Anthony's Hancock Institutional Equity Services. "It is difficult for management to embrace the innovative thinking, because they haven't been schooled in that way of thinking. But over time, management will see that this truly is the best thing for shareholders."
Mr. Gordon said he hopes Abington will also follow his recommendations or else develop its own plan. He's previously suggested shedding the unprofitable mortgage banking operation and abandoning efforts to boost fee income.
In his Dec. 7 letter, he wrote that his suggestions could even help the thrift reject an unsolicited merger offer, and referred management to the successful cost-cutting experiences of two U.S. corporations and Merchants Bancshares of Burlington, Vt.
"You seem to be resisting our attempts to enhance the value of our company," Mr. Gordon wrote in a fourth letter, dated Dec. 15. "Adopt our proposals, don't fight them."
He warned that "a failure to take corrective action might be a breach of the fiduciary duty that management and the board of directors have to shareholders to maximize value."
"It may be viewed that we're very demanding or impatient, but inevitably you always get to the same place," Mr. Gordon said in an interview. "If everyone would just check their egos at the door and realize that we're all working toward a common goal, the institution would look a heck of a lot better."