Joseph Campanelli, perhaps for the first time in his lengthy banking career, isn't feeling pressure to make wholesale changes in his new job.
Campanelli, who recently became CEO of Needham Bank in Massachusetts, has a reputation for taking jobs at banks in challenging positions. A decade ago, he was named CEO of Sovereign Bancorp in Wyomissing, Pa., after the $89 billion-asset company had ousted longtime leader Jay Sidhu.
By 2009, Campanelli had moved on to become chairman and CEO of Flagstar Bancorp in Troy, Mich., where he directed a notable turnaround of a $16 billion-asset company that was reeling from issues in its mortgage operations.
The $2 billion-asset Needham does not fit the profile of those prior gigs. For starters, the bank is much smaller — it only has 10 branches — and has no daunting challenges. The 125-year-old institution is also a depositor-owned mutual, a designation that sets it apart from the publicly traded banks he previously ran.
Campanelli, for his part, seems to have embraced the business model, saying in an interview Tuesday that mutuality is an asset because it solidifies Needham's identity as a trusted hometown bank.
As a mutual, "you can do what's in the best interests of your constituents," said Campanelli, who lives in nearby Wellesley. "You're not going to defer an investment or some other expense because Wall Street may want an extra penny of earnings in a given quarter."
Still, speculation swelled after Needham announced the hiring that Campanelli would come in and make big changes such as taking the bank public. After all, he did overhaul Sovereign's balance sheet and made a number of gutsy calls to return Flagstar to profitability.
At the same time, more than 190 mutual institutions have converted to some form of stock ownership since the late 1990s, with many of those evolutions taking place after the arrival of a hard-charging CEO.
For that reason, leadership changes at mutuals are frequently seen as a conversion bellwether, said Douglas Faucette, a Washington banking attorney who also serves as counsel to the America's Mutual Banks trade group. "It's always the case," he said.
But Campanelli, hired to succeed the recently retired Mark Whalen, talks as though he is the latest convert and an ardent champion for the mutual model.
"Needham has a reputation as one of the leading mutual banks in the region," Campanelli said, vowing to lend his voice to the mutual cause. Predecessors Whalen and Jack McGeorge, who remains Needham's chairman, have also been prominent advocates for depositor-owned institutions.
"If I didn't take a leadership role, I wouldn't be fulfilling my responsibilities to the company," Campanelli said.
It certainly helps that Needham has been firing on all cylinders in recent quarters, said Eric Morse, one of the bank's senior vice presidents. Loans and deposits have been growing steadily for years and Needham is on pace to post record profit when it reports its 2016 results.
"I think something very powerful is going on here," Morse said. "For the first time in my career, I'm seeing people who intentionally want to avoid the big brands for a better, more local option.When we talk about that internally, we see ourselves as the polar opposite to globalized financial brands."
If Needham were to hit a speedbump, it would most likely involve a scenario where growth would outpace capital. Needham, however, has $250 million in capital on hand to fund expansion, Campanelli said.
Since leaving Flagstar, Campanelli has worked as a consultant. He's also chaired the Tufts Medical Center's board of trustees, helping engineer the hospital's merger with Hallmark Health, another Boston-area health care provider.
It was certainly enough to keep Campanelli busy, but not enough to keep him from looking for a way to return to banking. Campanelli said he gave serious consideration to buying a charter, but he couldn't arrive at an acceptable formula to quickly build a small bank.
"If you want a good operating platform, a robust product offering, and good delivery service through experienced people, you do need some scale," Campanelli said. "To do it effectively the way I would envision it, you need a" bank with $1 billion in assets.
The Needham job more than addressed that need.
"It's big enough to have some very interesting opportunities but small enough to be nimble, away from the bureaucratic approach," he said. "It was very compelling and I couldn't be happier."
Campanelli said he started to receive validation for his decision shortly after his hiring was made public. Activity on his email and social media accounts jumped noticeably, providing him some much needed relief.
"You wonder if you still have it, so to speak," Campanelli said. "Some friends reached out and said we need to transfer some accounts and start doing business again."