At First Bank, personal banking begins with family

President and CEO of First Bank, Patrick L. Ryan, right, with his father, Patrick M. Ryan.

As a community bank, First Bank’s focus on meaningful relationships has become a tribute to an endearing father-son relationship, encapsulating years of fatherly words, actions and lessons.

“My dad is the single best example of a personal banker that I’ve ever seen. Our business model, our tagline and our mission—that’s 100% a result of his influence,” said Patrick L. Ryan, president and CEO of First Bank. “When I entered community banking, I was excited to work with and learn from my dad. I was also a little apprehensive because we all know that working with family creates some unique challenges.”

But as it turns out, the decision the father-son team made to work together—close to 15 years ago—was one of the best decisions they’ve made.

“I don’t think First Bank would be anywhere close to where it is today without my dad as a mentor, coach and a sounding-board,” Patrick L. Ryan said. “The lessons I’ve learned from him have been invaluable.”

His father agrees.

“I grew up in a time when the banker was the lifeblood of the community. You had to be well-versed in street smarts and in reading people,” Patrick M. Ryan, chairman of First Bank, said. “I’ve applied that to my career in banking—getting to know customers—that’s what’s important. The financial statement is only part of the story.”

Patrick L. Ryan says it took him a while to learn that he was really an entrepreneur at heart. He wasn’t sure what his career path would look like but knew he wanted to make an impact.

“My dad always encouraged me to consider the opportunities within community banking,” Patrick L. Ryan said. “He has spent more than 50 years in commercial lending and community banking. But, like a lot of kids, I didn’t necessarily want to follow in my parents’ footsteps.”

The younger Ryan knew he’d eventually want a career where he could make a significant impact, while having a balance that allowed time with his family, coaching his kids in little league and joining community organizations and boards.

After attending Hamilton College and then going on to graduate from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, Patrick L. Ryan wasn’t initially focused on community banking as a career path. It wasn’t until he spent a summer working at Yardville Bank with his dad that he began to consider a career in community banking.

Although it took Patrick L. Ryan some time to realize that community banking was for him, Patrick M. Ryan pointed out, “In my career, I’ve always looked for ‘thoroughbreds’—I’d surround myself with a strong cabinet of the best people, who would challenge me and say what’s on their minds. Patrick L. Ryan is one of those ‘thoroughbreds.’ He’s a jack-of-all-trades. He’s very smart, analytical and has excellent people skills.”

Before joining First Bank, Patrick L. Ryan gained extensive experience as an investment banking analyst at Goldman Sachs, where he focused on mergers and acquisitions within the financial institutions industry group. He also spent time as a management consultant for Bain and Company and as a senior vice president of Yardville National Bank.

When Patrick M. Ryan reminisces about what his son was like as a child, he said Patrick L. Ryan always wanted to “win”—whether it was sports or academics. He never wanted to come in second.

But as President and CEO of First Bank, Patrick L. Ryan said, “the definition of winning has changed – it’s about creating a successful, balanced company that serves the community, creates a dynamic and motivating work environment for employees, and generates a good return for shareholders.”

“Community banking is a profession where I am immersed in the community and I have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives while also satisfying my entrepreneurial spirit and enjoying a work-life balance,” he said.

When the younger Ryan set out to create a true community bank, he envisioned a different way.

He wanted to create a bank that gave clients access to decision-makers, a place where market executives had real authority.

He wanted a community bank that listened carefully, asked smart questions and delivered solutions, not products.

He wanted a community bank that could generate long-term success through long-term relationships built on sage advice and kept promises.

First Bank is one of the fastest-growing community banks in the nation and views old-school relationships as the building blocks.

And it has worked.

First Bank has been named one of S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Best-Performing Community Banks in the United States based on record growth and profitability. The bank has been recognized by NJ Biz as part of its “Fast 50” each of the past three years.

It’s rare for a community bank CEO to also have spent time working in management consulting, investment banking and strategic planning, and Patrick L. Ryan said that’s what differentiates him and allows him to successfully manage several areas of the bank, including strategy, operations, marketing and human resources.

But when Patrick L. Ryan created the winning formula for building relationships between bankers and its clients, he didn’t initially realize that he was essentially capturing a meaningful part of his relationship with his father. As much as First Bank is about people, it’s about a person.

Prior to serving as First Bank’s Chairman of the Board, Pat’s father, Patrick M. Ryan, was President and CEO of Yardville National Bank, where he grew it from $175 million to $3 billion in assets, setting an example for his son. He was a successful executive and had definite lessons he could teach—many of which he attributes to his upbringing. His father was an exceptional businessman and his mother was a “dynamo.” She had 12 children in 14 years while also running a yarn shop and managing the household.

Patrick M. Ryan graduated from the University of Notre Dame and then served as a First Lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War before beginning his career in the lending side of banking.

“Over the past five years, Patrick L. Ryan has made four acquisitions at the right price and with the right synergy. His unique skillset in mergers and acquisitions is one of the reasons First Bank has grown quickly,” Patrick M. Ryan added.

At First Bank there is good reason for seeking the “thoroughbreds.” It’s part of a strategic effort to create a successful local economy where community members and local businesses will thrive.

First Bank’s recent acquisitions have involved expanding its footprint in eastern Pennsylvania, and most recently the bank strengthened its position in Mercer County with the $19.9 million acquisition of Grand Bank.

“By helping individuals and business owners, we are strengthening the local economy together,” Patrick L. Ryan added.

The Ryans credit much of the bank’s success to building meaningful relationships with community members and maintaining a dynamic place for employees to work. It’s a business philosophy that runs deeper than a tagline or a slogan.

For the Ryans, it’s more than saying, “your loan was approved”—it’s about the relationships and the advisory capacity that only a personal banker can fulfill. It’s more than just running numbers and focusing solely on the financial statement. It’s about advocating for customers—helping community members get financing to start a new business, advising clients in becoming more productive with their assets or helping a young person open a savings account.

With a focus on continuing to build and grow the franchise, over the next five years, the father-son leadership team is positioning First Bank to become a highly valued community bank. That means growing the bank from $3-5 billion in assets while maintaining its focus on personal relationships.

Although from different generations, the Ryans bring unique perspectives and life experiences to First Bank and that’s just one of the ways they’ll ensure the bank continues to thrive.

“We are laying the groundwork for a big upside,” Patrick M. Ryan said.