Cordia Bancorp in Midlothian, Va., may be a small bank, but it reeled in a big hire to run its bank.

The $325 million-asset company recently coaxed Ed Barham, a former president and chief executive of StellarOne in Charlottesville, Va., to oversee its Bank of Virginia unit. Barham, 64, retired from the $3 billion-asset StellarOne in December 2013 as part of the company's sale to Union Bankshares.

The hiring was impressive, since Barham wasn't actively looking to get back into banking.

"I really did not want to go out looking for work," Barham said in a recent interview. "The situation excited me and my competitive juices reignited. It's a unique opportunity and I couldn't pass it up."

More banks are apt to follow Cordia's lead and actively pursue recently retired executives, industry observers said.

"There is an increasing trend of trying to pull people out of retirement," said Scott Petty, managing partner in the financial services practice at Dallas executive recruiting firm Chartwell Partners. "The next generation of talent just doesn't exist right now, so you need people who can bridge the gap."

Doing so may be easier said than done, said Rod Taylor, president of Taylor & Co., an executive recruiting firm in Atlanta. Very few retired CEOs are keen on returning to a business that proved harsh and unforgiving during the financial crisis and its aftermath.

"There are even fewer that are young enough and have the miles left in them" to make a successful return, Taylor said, adding the existence of noncompete agreements could whittle the talent pool down even more.

Roughly 30% of all retired bank leaders might be willing to try their hand at banking again, said Thomas Watkins 3rd, a retired partner at Chartwell. He estimated that no more than a tenth of those interested executives would have the skillset to catch the eye of an executive recruiter.

"Frankly, it could be magic if a smaller bank can find someone with the right track record," Watkins said.

Still, banks could see a slightly larger pool in coming years, if consolidation picks up and conditions continue to prove daunting for new bank charters, industry experts said.

Cordia, for its part, has been able to build a team of seasoned bankers over the years. Its chairman, Peter Greive, is a former Goldman Sachs managing director. The board also includes Hunter Hollar, a retired chairman and CEO of the $4.5 billion-asset Sandy Spring Bancorp in Olney, Md., and David Bushnell, who was Citigroup's senior risk officer from 2003 to 2007.

Jack Zoeller, Cordia's chief executive, is a former vice president at E.F. Hutton who later ran a bank in Lowell, Mass.

That experience helped make Barham's decision easier. "I looked at the quality of the board and thought, 'This is impressive. What's a board like this doing at a company this size?'" he said.

"We like being together, doing things well and adding value," Zoeller said, noting that Cordia has not had a major resignation or defection in its six-year history. "We're stronger as a group than we could be as individuals."

Cordia was formed in 2009 to invest in underperforming community banks. It bought a controlling stake in Bank of Virginia in late 2010. After losing a total of $5 million in 2011 and 2012, due to credit quality issues, the bank returned to profitability in 2013. It earned $1.1 million in the first half of this year, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Barham, who was brought on to fill a vacancy created when Richard Dickinson left to join the $5.8 billion-asset Towne Bank in Suffolk, Va., said he sees potential that exceeds Cordia's current financials.

"We've got a wonderfully gifted group of professionals," Barham said. "A board with this type of understanding gives us an edge. You shouldn't necessarily judge us by our size. It's our potential and what we can accomplish."

Cordia, which is keen on deals even though it hasn't made an acquisition since buying Bank of Virginia, should benefit from Barham's past experience. He helped negotiate the 2008 merger of Virginia Financial Group in Culpepper and FNB Corp. in Christiansburg, Va., that created StellarOne. (Cordia, meanwhile, has capital after raising more than $15 million in April 2014.

Virginia, which has more than 70 banks with less than $1 billion in assets, has seen a fair share of deals in the last 18 months. Notable sellers have included Virginia Heritage Bank in Tysons Corner, Valley National in Roanoke, Colonial Virginia Bank in Gloucester, MainStreet Bankshares in Martinsville and Franklin Financial in Richmond.

"When it comes to M&A, Ed has a huge record," Zoeller said. "My philosophy used to be to hire on ability, on raw talent. But I've learned that sometimes it's good to recruit people who have already succeeded. We wanted strategic growth. Ed has succeeded there big time. … He's certainly not here to mind the store. There's nothing exciting about that."

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