Malvern Bancorp in Paoli, Pa., has named as its chairman a banker with close ties to its chief executive.

Malvern appointed Howard Kent chairman of the company and of the $727 million-asset Malvern Federal Savings Bank, effective immediately, according to a bank spokesman.

Kent was previously chairman of Union Center National Bank in Union, N.J. Union Center's holding company, Center Bancorp, acquired ConnectOne Bancorp in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., in July 2014. At the time, Anthony Weagley was Center Bancorp's CEO. Weagley is now CEO of Malvern.

Kent was named Malvern's chairman as the company "seeks to enter a phase of strategic growth, principally in its loan portfolio," Weagley said in a Thursday news release. Kent was already a Malvern director and chaired the board's loan and discount committee.

Kent's appointment is Weagley's latest strategic move at Malvern in recent months. Weagley has formed a partnership with a Delaware wealth management firm, hired new loan officers and a new chief risk officer, and presided over the bank's release from a regulatory enforcement action.

Malvern has also been targeted by the activist investor Lawrence Seidman, who owns about 5.4% of the company. Seidman recently dropped his opposition to Malvern's slate of board nominees, after two of them resigned.

Seidman, who served on Center Bancorp's board with Kent, expressed confidence in Malvern's new chairman.

"I think it is excellent," Seidman said in an interview. Kent "is a great guy who works very hard and does a great job."

Malvern is a "much better" institution now that Weagley has exerted more influence over it, Seidman added.

Kent succeeds George Steinmetz as Malvern's chairman. Steinmetz, who will continue to serve on the board, had been a director since 2007 and chairman since October 2014. Steinmetz resigned to invest more time in Matthews Paoli Ford, the automobile dealership he owns.

Paul Davis contributed to this report.

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