Edwin F. Hale is about to take on the community banks of central Maryland as aggressively as he seized the reins of Baltimore Bancorp four years ago.
Mr. Hale, the combative former chairman and chief executive of the $2.3 billion-asset Baltimore institution, received regulatory approval for his newly acquired thrift company to start doing business as a state-chartered commercial bank.
"There has been a big outcry for a locally owned bank," Mr. Hale said. "I looked at it, and we're going to do it."
What the millionaire shipping executive aims to do is to transform his new institution, called First Mariner Bancorp, into a powerhouse, challenging the existing community institutions in an approximately 450- square-mile area in Maryland reaching north to Aberdeen, south to Annapolis, and west to Columbia.
While First Mariner just opened its doors this week, Mr. Hale said he is already in merger talks with two other Maryland banks - one in the $40 million-asset range and the other in the $90 million range.
First Mariner should grow from its current $30 million-asset size to up to $100 million by the end of the year, he said. It could then quickly double in size if a merger in the first quarter of 1996 comes through, Mr. Hale said.
It currently has four branches in the Baltimore area and likely will add two more by the end of next month, he said.
Although these plans sound ambitious, perhaps unrealistically so, Mr. Hale has the clout and the credibility to make them reality, observers said. It also doesn't hurt that Maryland's former governor, William Donald Schaefer, sits on the tiny bank's board.
"This is a group that will do exactly what they say they will do," said Margie Muller, Maryland's bank commissioner, whose office just approved First Mariner's formation. "They see some gaps in the market that are ripe for marketing activities."
First Mariner will focus primarily on small and medium-sized businesses in the greater Baltimore area - at least at first. It will also cater to residential construction needs, a division that will be headed by a former chief lender at Baltimore Bancorp.
First Mariner will also stress personal service, or "a smile in every aisle," as Mr. Hale put it.
He said First Mariner's management "will be the opposite" of the management team he unseated at Baltimore Bancorp. "The people we knocked off in the proxy contest four years ago, they were arrogant," he said.
Mr. Hale waged a bitter and costly battle in 1991 to gain control of Baltimore Bancorp's board, oust its former long-time chairman, and install himself as the company's head.
The venerable Baltimore institution appeared to be heading down the tubes at the time, announcing a $40 million loss just weeks after Mr. Hale took over. He subsequently beat the company into shape, however, and eventually negotiated its sale to First Fidelity Bancorp. of New Jersey last fall. He bought First Mariner's predecessor, MarylandsBank Corp., three weeks later.
MarylandsBank Corp. was a thrift holding company with two subsidiaries. The new owners last winter merged the two subsidiaries into one and then were able to convert the company last week into a state commercial bank holding company.