Rauh named to replace Stoddard at helm of Chelsea Groton Bank

Groton - Two years ago, when the United States faced a financial meltdown and Wall Street panic, mutual savings banks such as Chelsea Groton served as a bulwark against economic uncertainty.

Chartered to focus on conservative banking practices, the Groton-based bank - along with others in the region - never faced the jarring losses that many large commercial and investment banks had to withstand, mostly as a result of risky investments that resulted in losses when the subprime mortgage market disintegrated.

So it's no wonder that B. Michael Rauh Jr., a 51-year-old avid outdoorsman and longtime executive at The Washington Trust Co., was named Thursday to succeed Duncan Stoddard as president of Chelsea Groton Bank. Rauh is an advocate of small community banks and vows to largely stay the course at the 156-year-old institution when he starts his new position Dec. 1.

"This is a time when it's good to be a small bank," said Rauh, a Narragansett, R.I., resident who has spent nearly two decades at Westerly-based Washington Trust.

Most recently executive vice president for sales, service and delivery at Washington Trust, Rauh said smaller banks are seeing deposits soar as people seek safety after several years of economic volatility.

"Big banks have suffered a loss of market share," Rauh said in a phone interview. "People like knowing who they're dealing with ... that whole sense of community is more and more important."

Rauh had sought the chief executive role at Washington Trust before it was handed over earlier this year to Joseph J. MarcAurele. But he said his decision to seek out the top position at Chelsea Groton had nothing to do with being passed over.

"He's a terrific guy - I loved working for him," Rauh said of MarcAurele. "It was just an opportunity that came up."

Stoddard said he thinks Rauh will be a good fit for Chelsea Groton because of his broad banking experience and ability to act as a spokesman for the bank. In addition, Rauh believes in the bank's mission of conservative lending standards and investment in the community, Stoddard said.

"We were looking for someone who has the same value system," Stoddard said in a phone interview.

"Michael Rauh is a highly respected and experienced bank leader who has demonstrated his ability to balance growth, profitability, customer service and community involvement," Dennis Cambria, lead trustee at Chelsea Groton, said in a statement.

Stoddard has been president and chief executive of Chelsea Groton, the region's largest community bank, since 1988. The bank, which more than doubled in assets during Stoddard's tenure, announced in January that its chief would retire at the age of 64, and the institution's board of trustees immediately began the search for his replacement.

Stoddard said the bank's board looked at dozens of bank executives before settling on Rauh, whom he called "a superlative candidate."

Rauh oversees about 200 employees at Washington Trust's 18 branches, call center and e-commerce, cash-management and small-business lending divisions. He was the Westerly-Pawcatuck Chamber of Commerce's Citizen of the Year in 2008.

Rauh lives with his wife, Annette DeSilva, and 14-year-old son, Benjamin.

"He's the only non-Westerly resident to be citizen of the year, which says a lot about his standing in the community," said Stoddard, who has won the same award in eastern Connecticut.

Rauh initially will come on board as president of the bank and chief operating officer. Stoddard will retain the title of chief executive until his official retirement in the spring.

In the interim, Stoddard said he will spend time introducing Rauh to the institution's approximately 200 employees and to the community, while helping to familiarize him with the bank's operations.

Rauh, who skis, hikes, mountain-bikes and boats, said he likely will rent an apartment near the bank's Groton headquarters to take advantage of opportunities to meet the public.

A University of Rhode Island graduate who has a bachelor of arts degree in economics, Rauh has been a facilitator of the Washington County Regional Planning Council and a member of the board of directors for Save the Bay and Grow Smart Rhode Island. He was appointed to the Governor's Statewide Planning Council, is a member of the Narragansett Lions Club and an associate member of the Westerly Fraternal Order of Police.

"We found him to be the most outstanding candidate to fill the shoes of Duncan Stoddard, who has been such a great leader at our bank for so many years," trustee Cambria said.

Stoddard, who has pledged not join the bank's board of directors after his retirement so his successor's role will not be diluted, said he will spend more time with family and in leisure pursuits such as golfing and boating.

"It's just a fork in the road as far as I'm concerned," Stoddard said.

Rauh said Stoddard leaves behind a bank that is well respected, well run and well capitalized.

"Nothing needs to be fixed or changed," Rauh said. "My goal is just to try to get better each and every day."

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