This is Ralph Dowling’s last day as president of The Peoples Bank. He said good byes yesterday. The bank’s annual shareholder meeting is today. Last week, the bank’s board elected a new president, J. Scott Sturgill, another experienced community bank veteran.
Much has changed in the near decade since Dowling arrived at The Peoples Bank in August 2012. Like many community banks, Peoples was still struggling with the impact of the 2008 financial meltdown that led to the real estate development crash as borrowers came up short on projects that never came to fruition.
“The Peoples Bank was a troubled institution when I arrived,” Dowling remarked. “It had been placed under a Consent Order shortly after my arrival. Large losses were occurring and capital was being rapidly depleted. The stock price, which had once sold for as high as $70/share, was down to $12.”
Dividends were restored in 2017; the latest quarter posted a $.36/share dividend. PEBC’s shares opened today at $32/share.
On his arrival, Dowling went to work with bank management and outside consultants to evaluate the bank’s loan portfolio.
“Necessary adjustments were made to the Bank’s books and the regulators allowed us time to stabilize earnings and seek new capital as needed,” Dowling continued. “We were successful in our efforts.”
Dowling and his management team would resolve bad loans, sell the Church Hill branch, and expand into Talbot County. The bank also acquired FAM &M Insurance in Chestertown. It now operates as Fleetwood Insurance.
“The bank’s profitability has been significantly enhanced,” Dowling commented. “Our development of business in Talbot County led the way for the expansion of Fleetwood Insurance.”
Once the bank earnings were stabilized and the Consent Order was lifted, Dowling shifted his focus to community-related efforts in Kent County, reaching out to customers and local organizations to gauge needs.
“This is consistent with the belief I hold that there should be a symbiotic relationship between a community bank and the people it serves,” Dowling said. “This belief is key to my philosophy about community banking. I believe that focusing on strong business ethics with an emphasis on local services enhances not only our community, but also ensures life balance and a sound working environment for employees.”
Dowling and his wife, Patti, came from Austin, Texas. Ralph had worked in banking in the Southwest before coming to Chestertown. He came with a strong commitment to community involvement, including programs to strengthen opportunities for youth.
In 2015, Dowling and Peoples Bank worked with the Kent County Food Bank’s Backpacks Program that led to the initial Chester Gras event that included a parade and social gathering in the bank’s downtown parking lot. The program has raised $40,000 since its inception.
“Local restaurants donated gumbo and businesses donated money to put together this fun mid-winter event,” Dowling said. “Over the years the event became a cherished tradition and raised significant monies for the children of our area.”
“The motto says it all: ‘No child should go to bed hungry’,” Dowling remarked.
Dowling also was a moving force in working with the Kent County United Way to launch the Guest Chef Paella Fundraiser.
Dowling noted that Peoples has been nominated four times for the Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award and was the recipient in 2014.
“Additionally, the Bank is consistently named as the ‘Best Bank in Kent County’ by the Kent County News,” he continued. “Personally, I am humbled to have been nominated as Business Person of the Year by the Kent County Chamber of Commerce and to be recipient of the 2019 Edna Ross Award from the Chestertown Tea Party Festival Committee, which celebrates local business owners and professionals for outstanding service to the community.”
Dowling and the bank have donated and planted tulips at the branches in Kent and Talbot, an annual spring tradition.
“It always brings a smile to my face to hear someone refer to me as the ‘Tulip Man’.”
“I will move on to the next phase of my career; however, Patti and I have no plans for relocating,” Dowling said. “The past eight years have been extraordinary and Patti and I have been blessed by the many friendships that we’ve made in Chestertown and on the Eastern Shore.”
Dowling was appreciative of the support from management and staff of his leadership and efforts in the community.
“I will remember and honor my relationships with each of you,” he said. “I have confidence that our efforts here will not be forgotten and that the shareholders were well served during my tenure.”
“All in all, Patti and I feel blessed to have found our way to the Chestertown area and intend to continue our lives here.”