First Merchants to shuffle management after CEO's retirement

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Michael Rechin, who has First Merchants in Muncie, Ind., for the past 13 years, will retire at the end of the year.

Rechin, 62, will remain on the $13.8 billion-asset company's board and will serve as an adviser. His departure will usher in a restructuring of the company's top management.

Mark Hardwick, 49, the company's chief financial officer and chief operating officer, will succeed Rechin as CEO. Chief Banking Officer Michael Stewart, 54, will become president. Hardwick’s CFO duties will pass to Michele Kawiecki, 48, who is director of finance.

“This is a tremendous opportunity, and I want to thank Mike Rechin and the board ... for believing in my ability to lead First Merchants,” Hardwick said in a Tuesday press release. “I plan to continue building on the foundation Mike laid and prepare First Merchants to enhance the digital banking experience and community connectivity.”

“All three announced promotions are part of a long-planned succession process,” Chairman Charles Schalliol said in the release. “The board believes strongly that these management changes will position First Merchants well to continue to be a leading regional bank.”

Schalliol called Rechin, who joined First Merchants in 2005 as chief operating officer, a “superb” leader. First Merchants had about $3 billion of assets when Rechin became CEO in 2007. He was an aggressive acquirer, using deals to fuel the company's growth after the financial crisis.

First Merchants has completed nine whole-bank deals under Rechin’s leadership. The most recent — a $291 million, all-stock deal for MBT Financial that closed in September 2019 — pushed First Merchants across the $10 billion-asset threshold and marked its expansion into Michigan.

First Merchants earned $164 million last year. Its net income in the first half of 2020 was $67.3 million, and its year-to-date return on average assets was 1.03%.

“It has been a great privilege to lead First Merchants,” Rechin said. “The management team we’ve developed is well prepared to take First Merchants to the next level as Mark, Mike and Michele have all earned their next leadership responsibilities.”

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