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'Common sensical' banker retires after 40 momentous years

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 12. 2017 2:13AM
Joe Reilly, New Hampshire president for Eastern Bank, speaks with the Sunday News on Wednesday. He is retiring at the end of the year. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

BEDFORD -- When Tom Boucher tried to buy out a few partners at T-Bones and Cactus Jack's restaurants a decade ago, only one of four banks - Joe Reilly's - offered him a multimillion dollar loan to help finance the deal.

"It made a huge difference," recalled Boucher, who since has gotten the bank to help finance his two Copper Door restaurants in Bedford and Salem.

Reilly, 61, currently serves as New Hampshire regional president of Eastern Bank, which is based in Boston.

Three years ago, Eastern Bank acquired Bedford, N.H.-based Centrix Bank & Trust, which Reilly had co-founded.

"At the heart of Centrix's success was that we were able to deal in the safe shades of gray," Reilly said in his corner office at Eastern.

"Many banks see things as very black and white," he said. "We were able to see things in that shade of gray that met the customer's needs while still being within the confines of good, safe and sound banking in terms of a regulatory perspective. And it's essentially a sweet spot that we were able to operate in."

Last week, Reilly announced that he will be retiring at year's end after nearly four decades in the state's banking industry.

Much has changed since Reilly started as a management trainee at Indian Head Bank in Nashua in 1978.

"As I look back over those 40 years, just Draconian changes ... starting with the mere consolidation," Reilly said. "When I started in the bank, there were 102 banks in the state in 1978."

Today, that number is less than 40, and they "are increasingly banks that have come in from Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont who have tried to create a foothold here in New Hampshire," Reilly said.

Bank branch traffic has been cut in half over the last decade as customers today have phone and internet access to their money, according to Reilly.

Even before his career started, Reilly spent summers and school vacations as a teller at First National Bank of Peterborough. Later, he did the 18-month management training program at Indian Head, diving into every department for at least a month. After spending a dozen years there, Reilly went to work for Centerpoint Bank, learning lessons he incorporated into co-founding Centrix in 1998.

"We took the things that worked very well at Centerpoint and replicated them," he said. "We took the things that didn't work so well and decided not to do them."

That meant Centrix provided a full range of services to the small-business market, but didn't offer car loans or credit cards, he said.

In 2014, Eastern Bank announced it would acquire Centrix in a $134-million all-cash deal.

In a memo to employees last week, Eastern Bank CEO Robert Rivers reflected on Reilly's retirement.

"It was Joe that negotiated the deal with Eastern and in many ways he was the most attractive 'asset' we acquired," Rivers wrote.

Reilly, who lives in Ipswich, Mass., said with the transition complete, he is looking forward to some downtime before he searches for a part-time venture in New Hampshire.

Reilly has been involved in many organizations. He's been chairman of the board at Catholic Medical Center and chairman of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce.

"He's just a really upstanding guy that people respect, not only for his business and banking sense, but he's just a genuinely down-to-earth, great, great guy," Boucher said.

Christiana Thornton, president and chief executive officer at the New Hampshire Bankers Association, recalled that staffers at the bankers association - where Reilly once served as chairman - gave Reilly a hard time about commercials that Centrix ran on television.

"We always joked about him being on television, and he had a very prominent presence," she said.

Reilly said he will most miss the people he met from various businesses and industries.

"We believe in people; I'm a very intuitive person," he said. "I've been very successful in my career by virtue of just kind of trusting my gut, being common sensical and intuitive and not always following what the numbers indicate."

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