NEW YORK – Joseph R. Ficalora, President and Chief Executive Officer of New York Community Bancorp, Atlantic Bank’s parent company, in his first interview with The National Herald after the passing of Spiros Voutsinas, the president of Atlantic Bank, characterized him as a “great man.”
Through its recent advertisements in TNH, the bank, in addition to paying tribute to Voutsinas, also expressed its respect and appreciation for the community and stated that a Greek-American will be selected to be president.
“It is a position that is very highly regarded by many – more than I had realized – in the Greek community,” Ficalora continued, “so it will take a little while to make the right choice…but we would like to do this sooner rather than later.”
He said he could not speculate at this time as to “who will be the person, since some of these people are involved in various other ways, and it would not be appropriate to talk about the candidate explicitly, but it is clear that there are many good people who would love to have the opportunity to be involved directly to fill the very large shoes of Jerry Voutsinas.”
Asked if it will necessarily be a top banking official who will be selected, Ficalora said, “there are people of many types…There are people who would love to have the opportunity to be in this position that have extensive banking background, and others that do not. It’s a good choice to be in a position to make,” he said.
Because there are so many good candidates, he thinks the process will take longer than they would like, “but in order to do it right, we should take the time to consider the many choices that we have.”
The conversation with Ficalora served to reinforce the fact that Voutsinas’ death is a painful loss for the bank and Greek-American community.
Speaking of Voutsinas’ contributions to the bank and to the community he loved, Ficalora said, “He was a great, great man. He was excellent and served the banking community for many decades,” he said, adding that Voutsinas’ roots were “very well defined. He grew up on the island of Kefalonia, has a home there and he returned there many times, so he was very pleased when the opportunity arose for him to be involved with Atlantic Bank, and it worked out very well for all of us.”
Ficalora emphasized the value of Voutsinas’ “genuine sense of the community,” and noted that all the people on the Atlantic Bank Board were recommendations from Voutsinas, who was known as Jerry in the banking world.
“Over the years he was so proactive. He maintained many relationships and established new relationships…there were many people at the bank who had direct ties to the Greek community, but Jerry was the focal point…he could understand and convey the issues of importance, both to people who wanted services from the bank, and from the bank’s perspective. He was the perfect person at the perfect time, and he loved what he was doing.”
Acknowledging small businesses as the bedrock of the Greek community, Ficalora said “That was paramount. The Bank needed to be available within the community as a funding source, and the various services we provide as a bank were essential.”
Voutsinas emphasized to Ficalora the need for the bank’s personnel to be able to speak both English and Greek. “There is no escaping the fact than many of the people who came to the bank were new to the U.S. and were more comfortable speaking in Greek,” Ficalora said.
Asked about the development of Atlantic bank after its purchase by New York Community Bancorp, Ficalora told TNH “I’d say the bank has clearly evolved to being more oriented to the Greek community.”
He noted that the Greek focus “was definitely altered during that period of time” when Thomas M. O’Brien, ran Atlantic for the National Bank of Greece. “The good news is that the appropriate relationships, some of those that were lost, were re-established and new relationships were created. The Board is very involved in the Greek community and will continue to be,” he said.
Ficalora also spoke about the past growth and the future of New York Community Bancorp, which went public 20 years ago. “Our business model has been very consistent through that whole time. We grow for the benefit of those we serve, and we grow by acquisition. We have done 11 deals and we are highly probable to do many more deals in the years ahead,” he said.
He told TNH that “there are opportunities that are close by, and opportunities that are distant. The good news is that the transaction that took us to Arizona, Florida and Ohio,” in 2009 “has resulted in us having very strong deposit mixes in those markets, and in fact the most efficient retail banking we do is in Florida and the 2nd most efficient in Arizona. Before being there we would not have guessed that.”
In closing, Ficalora said that the expansion and prosperity of the Greek-American community “and the needs the community has exhibited with regards to financial resources, are all positives and I think it is good that there are entities such as ours that focus on the community as a whole.”