Most bankers get promoted for a job well done, but not Lawrence Connell. He gets fired.
He's had five jobs in four cities in the past five years and usually hasn't been in town as long as his apartment lease.
Yet it's not an irascible personality that sends Mr. Connell packing so often. At 55, he's one of the most sought-after turnaround experts in the thrift industry.
Usually that means that after he spends a year cutting costs and shrinking bad loans, the thrift is either seized and sold, or bought out. Either way, he has had to move on.
His latest venture, as chief executive of Society for Savings Bancorp, is likely to prove his most satisfying. After he had worked there only 10 months, Bank of Boston Corp. approached him this summer with a lucrative takeover offer.
The deal for the Hartford company, announced on Aug. 31, will pay shareholders 1.3 times book value, a price they haven't seen in at least three years.
But after giving up a 24-year career as a regulator in 1982 to become a bank savior, Mr. Connell now has some thinking to do. There are fewer thrifts that need to be saved which means that Mr. Connell may not be able to find another turnaround so easily.
"In one or two years the [thrift] debacle will be over, so in some sense he's got to stop doing it,' said Leonard Lapidus, president of Mutual Savings Central Fund of Massachusetts and a former colleague.
Mr. Connell won't discuss his future yet. He says it's improper to talk about his career until he seals the deal for Society's shareholders, which should take six more months.
Comfortable Severance Package
He's slated to get at least a $250,000 severance payment plus stock options that could be worth nearly $2 million. That means he won't have to worry about money for a while.
Still, most don't think he will stay at Bank of Boston. He has a reputation as an independent thinker who likes to run his own show.
"It would be inconsistent with the rest of his career," said Stanley Wells, an executive vice president at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.
Before coming to Society, Mr. Connell led attempts to turn around Washington Mutual Savings Bank in Seattle, Commodore Savings Association in Dallas, United Savings Association in Houston, San Jacinto Savings Association in Houston, and New Hampshire Savings Bank Corp. in Concord.
The Texas and New Hampshire banks were ultimately seized by the government. He helped turn Washington Mutual around.
Insight from Work as Examiner
He said he likes turnarounds because he likes to fix things.
"It's probably because I started as a bank examiner," he said. "When I did that I spent years identifying problems."
Mr. Connell, who says he can move easily because he is divorced and has grown children, has also been Connecticut banking commissioner and head of the National Credit Union Administration.
He remains a partner of Prather, Seeger, Doolittle & Farmer, a Washington, D.C., law firm he joined in 1985.
During his tenure at Society, he sold 14 of 33 branches, laid off 15% of the staff, built equity to 5.74% of assets from 5% and shrank nonperforming assets to $154 million from $174 million.
As a result, the company earned $3.5 million during the first six months of 1992 after posting a $64 million loss last year.
He said he had hoped to stay around and run Society a little longer. Unlike the thrifts in Texas and New Hampshire, "this was solvent" and he had hoped to be able to expand it.
But when Bank of Boston's offer came, his choice was clear.
"I would have had to ask the board to either sell new stock at $11 a share or sell to Bank of Boston at potentially $20 a share. That's not too hard a decision to make."