When Charles Crawford Jr. took over as chairman and CEO of Philadelphia-based Hyperion Bank in August 2017, the 11-year-old de novo’s board had shrunk from 15 directors at its inception to the statutory minimum of just five, and its future was anything but certain.
Hyperion had been formed in 2006, but never seemed to find its stride. “When you start a new bank you typically lose money for the first two years, and by year three you should have enough critical mass to be achieving profitability for your shareholders,” says Crawford. “Unfortunately for Hyperion, they lost money for seven straight years. A lot of those 15 board members said ‘You know what? This isn’t so fun.’” One by one, most of them left the board.
Crawford had also formed a new bank in 2006, but this venture turned out to be much more successful than Hyperion. Crawford’s bank — known as Private Bank of Buckhead and situated in an upscale community north of Atlanta – was sold in 2017. After the sale, an investor in both Private Bank and Hyperion asked him to take a close look at its operation and perhaps join the board. Crawford says he saw “a great entrepreneurial opportunity” and signed on.
Since then, Crawford has raised $18 million in capital, which has enabled the $250 million asset bank to finally begin to grow, and opened a branch in the Atlanta market. He has also rebuilt the Hyperion board almost from scratch. Today’s board has eight members, including an African American male, who joined the board in 2018, and three females who signed on in the fourth quarter of 2019. Crawford values the different experiences and points of view – often referred to as diversity of thought – that the group brings to the governance process.
“To me, it’s not just gender and ethnic diversity,” Crawford says. “It’s backgrounds and skillsets and knowledge, and that people think differently and ask different questions.” Hyperion’s board diversity didn’t occur by accident. “You do have to be very intentional to be able to build a diverse board or a diverse workforce,” he says.
One of Crawford’s challenges in rebuilding the board was his unfamiliarity with the Philadelphia business community. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania but hadn’t lived in Philadelphia for over 30 years, so he didn’t know a lot of people there. One of his first recruits was Robert N.C. “Bobby” Nix III, an African American attorney with extensive experience serving on bank boards, including one occasion when he had to step in and take over as the interim CEO. Crawford was introduced to Nix by another Hyperion director who has since left the board.
Nix says he quickly developed a rapport with Crawford. “He is a very accomplished banker and a really bright and nice guy,” Nix says. “I got along with Charlie really well and had a great comfort level with him. And we talked about a lot of stuff about how I would like to see the bank go, and he actually listened.”
One of Nix’s suggestions was to recruit an economist because Hyperion is an active construction lender and that tends to be a cyclical business. Crawford later brought to the board Lara Rhame, the chief U.S. economist at FS Investments, an alternative asset manager in Philadelphia. Crawford started playing tennis after he moved to Philadelphia as a way of meeting people, and a fellow tennis player connected him to Rhame. Crawford said he was looking to add more talent to the Hyperion board.
“Lara and I had coffee and I explained what the bank was up to and [what] the mission [was] and got to know her background,” Crawford says. “I’ve never had an economist on my bank board, but it is very valuable. She helps not just me but the other directors and bank management see the big picture of what’s going on.”
Crawford first met another female director – Gretchen Santamour, a partner at the Philadelphia law firm Stradley Ronon, where she specializes in business restructurings and loan workouts – through a public relations consultant that did some work for the bank. Santamour invested in Hyperion when Crawford did a capital raise and later sent him a note. “She said, ‘I’m glad to see that you have a female on your bank board. Most community banks I’m aware of don’t. If you ever want to add to that let me know. I’d be glad to help you.’ I took that very literally and followed up with Gretchen later and said, ‘I got your note and frankly with your experience as an attorney and [with] workouts, and being so engrained in the Philadelphia business community, how about you? Would you be willing to serve? And she said she would.’ So she, too, has been a great addition.”
A third female director at Hyperion is Jill Jinks, CEO at Insurance House Holdings, an agency located in Marietta, Georgia. Jinks had been an investor in the Private Bank of Buckhead and had served on the board. Jinks also invested in Hyperion when Crawford did his capital raise, and when Hyperion expanded into the Atlanta market, he asked Jinks to become a director. “I had the experience of having her as a director for a decade on my previous bank [board] and I knew her,” Crawford says. “She chaired my audit committee – she’s chairing [Hyperion’s audit committee] now – and I knew she would be of great value to us, both in the Atlanta market and in general with governance.”
In addition to himself, other Hyperion directors include Louis DeCesare, Jr., the bank’s president and chief operating officer who joined the company in 2013; James McAlpin, Jr., a partner at the Atlanta-based law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and leader of the firm’s financial services client services group; and Michael Purcell, an investment adviser and former Deloitte & Touche audit partner with deep ties in the Philadelphia business community.
The story of how Crawford rebuilt the bank’s board reveals several important truths about board diversity. When bank boards need to recruit a new director they tend to rely on personal networks, and some of Hyperion’s directors were individuals that Crawford already knew. But the Hyperion board’s diversity is also intentional. Board diversity won’t happen unless the people driving the refreshment process make it happen through a deliberate process.
“As you can tell from my story, and I think this would be true with most community banks, we didn’t hire a big recruiting firm to help us ‘ID’ directors,” Crawford says. “My advice is, reach out to community organizations … by being involved. I remember back at my Atlanta bank, I served on the City of Atlanta Board of Ethics and it exposed me to a whole different group of people. And the chair of that board … was [an] African-American [who] had served on the Delta Credit Union board and he ended up joining my board. It’s just another example of, if you get out in the community, you’re going to get exposed to and meet people you otherwise wouldn’t if you’re sitting in your boardroom, or office, hoping they’ll come to you.” Nix, Rhame and Santamour are a case in point; all were unknown to Crawford before he recruited them to the board.
Crawford has another piece of advice for bank boards looking to be more inclusive. “Building a diverse board … is an ongoing, moving target,” he says. “I don’t think you’re ever done, as your community ebbs and flows, to make sure that either your board or our workforce looks like your community.”