John F. Perotti Cover sheet:
File #:21, cycle 3
Place of interview:Office at Scoville Library
Date:Jan. 31, 2018
Summary of talk:Family background, Vietnam, banking career with Salisbury Bank & Trust from 1973 to 2018.
John f. Perotti Interview:
This is file 21, cycle 3. Today’s date is January 31, 2018. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing John Perotti who was the former President of the Salisbury Bank and Trust. He is still active on the Board of Directors. He is going to tell me all about the bank from the time he started until today. First we will start with the genealogical information.
JM: What is your name?
JP: John Francis Perotti
JM: Your birth date?
JP: Feb. 12, 1947
JM: Your birth place?
JP: Sharon, Ct.
JM: Your parents’ names?
JP: John Francis Perotti and Josephine Gasperini
JM: You have no brothers and sisters?
JP: I was an only child. I always missed not having brothers or sisters, but friends have told me through the years that those that have brothers and sisters they wish they had been an only child.
JM: You told me that you had gone to Vietnam. What branch of the service were you in?
JP: I was in the United States Army.
JM: You were in the army for 3 years?
JP: I was in the army for 2 years because I was drafted in Nov. 29, 1966. I was discharged in late Nov., 1968.
JM: You said you learn a lot of life lessons when you were in Vietnam.
JP: I did.
JM: Would you share a few of those life lessons?
JP: I was a youngster. I had never really traveled a lot. I had motored through New England with my parents on family vacations and so on. Until I was drafted, I had never been in an airplane. I received a letter indicating that my number had been called, and I was to go to the courthouse steps in Torrington, Ct. for an interview. I went there and had to be there at 6:00 am on a Wednesday morning. I showed up. There were about 75 other young men there like me; all had been drafted. They put us on a couple of busses and drove us to New Haven. When we got to New Haven, we were given a physical; they asked us some questions. I think every single one of us was sworn in that day. We took the oath. I do not think there was anyone who did not take the oath. That was quite an experience in itself. I met a person that I had never seen before on the courthouse steps that morning. His name was Gerry Roberts. He was a Torrington native. It was just one of those things where we instantly bonded. We were close together alphabetically Perotti and Roberts so we chatted on the way to New Haven. We went through basic training together and Advanced Infantry Training together. Sadly he did not come home. I went no for some additional training in Radio and Radio Teletype and Non Commissioned Office Academy. They were all area I was chosen for training; I didn’t volunteer for anything. One of the things they try to do when you are drafted is to get you to enlist for more time. There are a number of aptitude tests that you take, skills tests that you take. I scored high on the Warrant Officer series which would mean that I would have been a helicopter pilot if I chose to enlist for four years. I did not feel that I wanted to do that. I wasn’t happy to be drafted, but I felt I had a civic duty to follow through and 2 years was the normal duty. I was willing to give my life to them for 2 years, but would not volunteer for anything extra. That was my mind set. The sent me to school for a year and then in Nov. of 1967 I got my orders to go to Vietnam.
Tragically before that Gerry and I went to basic training together and then infantry training. They called it AIT from there I never saw him again. He was sent to Vietnam as an infantry man 11 Bravo. (Bravo was the Army slang for 11B10-Light Weapons Infantryman. JP) He was shot, not seriously, he had been in the country maybe a month. He was awarded the Purple Heart and he went back to the same company. He was out patrolling in the jungle and stepped on a land mine and was killed instantly. I was shocked. My mother wrote me and sent me the article in the paper. The Roberts family was a prominent family in Torrington. This is a small area and everybody knew everybody. He was one of the first casualties from the area.
JM: You said that you did not get hurt in the war.
JP: I was fortunate. I came home. I served two years, a full year in Vietnam in combat with a combat unit. I was not in 11 Bravo; I was not a straight leg infantryman. I had a radio military occupation specialty as well as a radio teletype military occupation specialty. I was also a graduate of the Non Commissioned Officers Academy so I was attached to an infantry unit, but I saw very little combat. We were frequently put in combat situations. We shot at people and people shot at us, but fortunately I came home with not physical scars or no emotional scars. (He did mention remembering spending his 21st birthday in a rice paddy in Vietnam. Ed.) I consider myself very fortunate because many of my friends to this day suffer PTSD.
JM: Because of your military experience, you were about to use the GI Bill to further your education.
JP: That’s right. When I came home, I worked construction for a little while just to unwind. I worked at Becton & Dickinson for 6 months. Then I decided to use the GI Bill to go to school to get some accounting. I felt at the time, my background had been in agriculture. I was born and raised on a dairy farm and I loved agriculture, but (I could not see a future in dairy farming in this area. Although my maternal grandparents and my paternal grandparents both owned dairy farms and I had an opportunity to go to either one and be part of the family operation, I did not think it was going to be a profession in which I could make a decent living. Just knowing what I knew in running what I had learned, I thought it was going to be a tough way to make a living. So I got this idea that I should pursuit an accounting or banking or investment education because no matter what happens in the future economy-wise, there is always going to be a need for a bank. There will always be a need for an accountant. So I went to the Hartford Institution of Accounting in 1972 -1973. I got my credentials in accounting and came back to the area. I applied to every bank in Connecticut and Massachusetts for a job. I was turned down by everyone because there was just no need. Back then we were not as mobile a society as we are now. People tended to go to work for a firm, regardless of the profession and they stayed there for their whole career. People just did not move, especially in banks. By that time I had decided that I wanted to be a community banker. That is what peaked my interest in applying for a job locally.
I was interviewed by Jack Rogers who was the President of the Salisbury Bank & ( See tape # 30 Jack Rogers) I did well during the interview and he said that he did not have anything right then but could he keep his application on file. About 6 months later he called, “If you are still interested in a job, it is yours.” “OK, I’ll come in and see you.” “No need to come in to see me. I know your family, I know who you are. I need an entry level person. The job is yours if you want it.” I started on May 21, 1973.
JM: At that time what departments were in the bank?
JP: It was really all together. My recollection is that there were 12 employees. I was the youngest at age 25. I started out on the teller tine; today they are called customer Service Representatives. There is a lot of sophistication today with computers and so forth. The thing is you are dealing with the public so to be successful you need to have a compromising personality. The customer is always right, even if they are wrong! I was brought up that way. It was very easy for me. I started on the teller line. We had a Trust Department and there was a Bookkeeping Department and there was a Lending Department. At the time we did primarily mortgage loans and consumer loans, very small loans of $10,000 or less. The mortgages were usually #250,000 or under. We had about 30 million in assets at the time.
I had opportunities because when things were slow at the teller window, I would go help someone else and learn the machines. We had only 2 at the time a proof machine and an NCR (National Cash Register) machine. Or I would help Edith Mc Neil in the Loan Department. So I had the opportunity to work in all areas of the bank. Everybody at the bank was interchangeable. I learned a little bit about all the areas because you had to fill in when someone was out ill or on vacation. You would pick up the slack. I was young and eager and receptive to new challenges. Jack had me do everything.
JM: But you took the initiative to learn on your own.
JP: I did, that was my nature. That is part of my DNA, I guess. I found it fascinating. It was fun to work in the Trust Department. Everything was manual. We had no teller machines or computers. We had adding machines, but they were a very basic adding machines, not like what we have today, not digital. They were much more mechanical. It was a slow process. Attitude and personality was critical. You needed to enjoy people and like people to be successful at the bank. Fortunately I started working in 1973 and am still involved with the bank today as a member of the Board of Directors.
JM: What was Jack Roger’s vision for the bank?
JP: Jack Roger’s vision, he did a very good job of indicating it, said, “We don’t want to get involved with things we do not understand. We need to do the best job we can do to take care of our customers and make money for our shareholders.” At the time it was in the early stages of “mergeritus”. Banks were starting to merge and be acquired by bigger banks. We were strong; we had a lot of capital and we spent our money wisely so we have never forgotten ourselves in a position where we were in trouble financially and needed to do anything extraordinary. His vision was to keep the bank small, profitable, and safe. Safety was critical for the customer’s assets. He communicated that to us constantly. Everybody understood their role and played their role perfectly.
JM: He did a good job then.
JP: He was a great person. He was a great mentor to me. He gave me a number of opportunities and I am thankful that we found one another.
JM: When did you become an officer of the bank?
JP: I became an officer of the bank 2 years after I started working there in May of 1975. I was promoted to Assistant Treasurer. 2 years later I was promoted to Assistant Vice President. I was very fortunate that I constantly moved up through the ranks. I was made Vice President, then Executive Vice President and I was the first Executive Vice President of the bank actually in 1986. In 1989 I was made an Executive vice President and CEO. Interestingly as VP in 1985 I was appointed to the Board of Directors unanimously by the members of the board at that time. I am still a member of the Board of Directors today.
JM: They must like you a lot!
JP: I like them, although at the time I was the youngest one on the board, but now I am not the oldest in age but the longest serving member of the Board of Directors, starting in 1985 to 2018.
JM: When did you become President of the bank?
JP: I became President of the bank July 1, 1993. Almost 20 years to the day after I had started work.
JM: That is very quick for banking.
JP: I was just in the right place at the right time. I took advantage of the opportunities and I had the personality which the key. My parents taught me early on in life, probably because I was on only child that it is important to understand compromise and to be willing to compromise. To be careful what you say and to whom you say it. I never forgot that.
JM: It was a good lesson. I am not sure that children who have siblings learn that as quickly. When you joined the board, who was on the board back then?
JP: Jack Rogers who was chairman, Tuck Cummingham who was President of the bank, I believe he was made President in 1983. It was a contentious time because there were very capable individual who was an attorney from outside of the area that worked at Trust Officer of the bank. The board was split between he and Tuck Cunningham who was an area native (Sharon) and very popular, not only in the bank but also in the state of Connecticut as a banker. Everybody knew him. The other individual Howard Roberts was a prominent attorney from New Jersey who had relocated to the area a few years before to run our Trust Department. In the end Tuck was named President and Howard was named Executive Vice President, but he left the bank shortly thereafter.
JM: When you became President, was there a search or were you heir apparent?
JP: Our board minutes indicate that I was to be Tuck Cunningham’s successor, but back in the 1990’s as you may recall, many banks got into trouble as they were trying to expand their franchises. There were a number of banks which were forced to sell. There was strong scrutiny from the regulators. Our board, although they had appointed me, we had agreed as a board unanimously when I was made Chief Operating Officer that when Tuck retired, I would be named President and Chief Executive Officer. Some of the members felt that these were very trying times; we owe it to the shareholders and employees and the community to do an exhaustive search. We need to be sure that John is the right person. He is an insider, no questions he is dedicated to the bank, but he does not have the “Wall Street experience” that perhaps would interest someone coming to apply. We really need to open this thing up.
So they did a nation- wide search. History will show that I was one of 16 candidates at the time to be considered for the position. The bank was one of the best preforming in the state of Connecticut so that was the interest. They knew we were strong and were not going to fail. Some of the applicants were M & A experts (merger and acquisition); they felt they could come and be president for a few years and then sell the bank and make a few bucks for themselves. There was a very strong, strict professional interview process. There was a committee of the board that was named as a search committee which was chaired by Jeff Walker. He at that time was the oldest serving candidate on the Salisbury Bank Board so he had the respect of every member of the board. They did a very fair job in selecting the candidates. They interviewed all 16 of us. My message was simple. I do not know what the message was from the other 15 candidate. All the other candidates were successful in their own right. Some of them had been presidents of banks previously so they were very well qualified. I did not have the experience as a bank president, but I had the experience working in every department of Salisbury Bank. I think in the end it came down to Skip Britain, an M & A specialist from Hartford, and me. He had worked very well under the holding company atmosphere. They were part of ta three bank holding company in Hartford which was very prominent at the time. Charles Britain was very capable individual and had the background of Wall Street banker and had worked in Manhattan. He had also worked successfully in Hartford. He had decided that it would be good for him to retire and come to work at a small bank. I think he had visions of selling the bank. I know he did because it came down to the two of us.
The board asked me to spend some time with Skip and we did. I went to Florida to visit for a week with him, talking about what he would do if he were named president and what I would do if I were named president. We shared out vision with one another. On the way home after spending a week with Skip and his wife, a lovely couple, but it was clear that we had two different visions. His was to grow the bank and sell it. Mine was to grow the bank and keep it independent. I won. The board felt that I was the better candidate; they did not feel that the bank needed to be sold. They felt they had done their due diligence to satisfy the regulators. They could clearly see my vision to keep the bank small and grow exponentially internally. We should keep our eyes open for acquisitions and opportunities. This would be the best way to grow the bank. That is what we did.
JM: What are some of the banks that you acquired?
JP: We acquired a number of branches. In 1983 when Tuck Cummingham was President, I believe he was named President in 1983; we opened our second branch in Sharon, Ct. Prior to that we had a branch in Salisbury and we had the main office in Lakeville. I was made President in 1993. In 2001 we opened our third branch, by acquisition.
We acquired the People’s branch in nearby Canaan, Ct. That used to be the former Canaan Savings Bank. In my opinion that branch was sold to a big bank in Hartford. I call the CEO at the time and asked him if had ever been to visit the Canaan branch. He said he was embarrassed that he had never been at the Canaan branch. As a matter of fact he was not even sure where Canaan was. He did know it was up in the northwest corner of the state, and thought it was on route 7 but was really not sure. I told him that it did make any sense in looking at his footprint on the map since his bank was based in Bridgeport and all other branches were down south near the shore. I told him it made no sense to keep the Canaan branch. He agreed. “Let me look into this.” He called me back a couple of months later and asked me if I remembered our conversation; I sure did. “I have good news and bad news.” The good news is that we are going to sell the bank and the bad news is that we are going to advertise it. We are not just going to give it to you. I said, “That is not a problem. I have done my homework. I have hired a consultant. I know what the branch is worth to us. I can give you a bid right now over the phone.” “No we have a formal bidding process.” That is what we did. Our bid was the highest. In my opinion the Canaan National Bank should have purchased that branch, but they didn’t. That opened the door for Salisbury because we bought it. In 2004 we ended up acquiring Canaan National Bank. It was their decision and they felt it was not a prudent investment on their part at the time. In 2007 I had a vision of going into New York State, but we could not branch into New York State because of the banking laws. I found a bank down in New Jersey called New York Community Bank. They were a pretty large bank, but they had a branch that they wanted to close. I found out about it and called the CEO and begged him not to close that bank. ”Let me buy the branch and relocate it to Dover Palins>” I told him what my strategy was that we bought a branch and relocated it. “We are no danger to you at all because I am not going down south. We want to expand north.” That is what we ended up doing. We bought that branch, and relocated it to Dover Plains and opened in 2007. Ironically shortly after we had done that the banking laws changed and we could have had branches in New York State. Our Dover branch today is doing very well; it has about 60 million in assets. It is a very profitable contributor to our franchise.
JM; How did you get into Millerton, then?
JP: I wanted to go to Millerton first, but the opportunity came up in Dover to least a piece of property. I did not want to build a branch if I did not have to. We were working on plans in Millerton. We opened a branch in Millerton the year I retired in 2009. Also in that year we purchased a Webster branch in Canaan. We are back in Canaan again. We ended up as one of three banks in Canaan; now we are the only bank in Canaan, except for a small supermarket branch in Stop & Shop. That is still a People’s bank.
JM: You were President and CEO. Were the duties separate or were they entwined?
JP: No that was the title at the time. There were discussions of the board without my presence. I was surprised because when the board called me in to announce that they were promoting me to President. Tuck, who was the CEO at the time and was retiring, said, “Congratulations, you are the new President of the bank.” Jeff Walker, the chairman of the Search committee, quickly corrected him and said,” Yes, John, you are President but Tuck, you are incorrect, he is President and chief Executive Officer. We voted to make him President and CEO.” CEO is a key title because it sends a clear message that anyone interested that he is responsible for everything that goes on in the bank, including the Trust Department.
Since 2009 we have opened a Great Barrington, Massachusetts branch. We acquired a Union Savings Bank branch in Sharon. We also acquired the Riverside Bank, the entire bank, in Poughkeepsie, New York. That was a big acquisition. The Canaan Acquisition was around $1.7 million in assets, but the Riverside Bank was $240 million in assets in 2014. That has been a key acquisition because the bank grew from 2 branches and a main office when I was named CEO to 14 branches today, operating in three states. We have 4 branches in Ct. 3 branches in Mass. and 7 branches in N.Y.
JM: You went from 12 employees to 192.
JP: Yes, we have a significant number of employees; I think we are probably about 200 now.
JM: When did you renovate the Salisbury branch?
JP: The Salisbury branch was renovated in 2007-08. That was one of the first things I wanted to do when I was named CEO. I hired an architect to come in and look the building over. It was an old building built in the 1800’s. (I think it was Clark’s Dry Good Store ED.) We were told by this licensed and degreed engineer that we would not be able to expand economically because the building was unsafe for the significant weight that we would need on the second floor. We never did anything. The branch was looking so dire that Rick and I talked about it. During the period just before my retirement I was grooming Rick Cantele to be my successor and we had to do something with that building. It was an historic building so we did not want to demolish it and star over. We got another architect in who really did his homework and said that the building was structurally sound and with minimal renovation we could expand and make it a state of the art building. That is what we did. It was completed shortly before I retired.
JM: Alice Kent (See file #8, cycle 3, Alice Kent) was the Branch Manager at that time.
JP: I made Alice Kent the Branch Manager. She was ideal for the position. She was college educated. She understood that importance of candor and compromise in dealing with the public. She was a very popular Branch Manager at the Salisbury Office.
JM: She really liked the renovation a lot.
JP: I can imagine. She worked there before the renovation and she knew. She also worked at our main office.
JM: I want you to tell me about Rick Cantele and his grandfather.
JP: Rick’s grandfather Peter Brazzale, his maternal side of the family, was a stone mason of Italian parentage. He was very proud of his family: Rick’s mother was his daughter. He was very proud of his grandson Rick. Rick attended Fairfield University and received a degree in finance. (See tape #166A Rick Cantele) When he graduated, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do so he started working for his uncle, his grandfather’s son and his mother’s brother Peter III. Pete was a shareholder pf Salisbury Bank and he was a customer. He wanted his grandson to come to work for Salisbury Bank so he would come into the bank every couple of days and see Jack Rogers, who was the President. “You should hire my grandson. He has a degree in finance. He’s a great guy.” You had to know Pete; he was very persistent. After a while Jack would tell him that there were no openings. “He is driving me nuts I am going to close my door when he comes in.” He didn’t get the message. He would come in and getting no response with Jack would go to Tuck Cummingham. That went on for four or five months. Then Tuck said the same thing. “I am closing my door. You are going to have to deal with him.” I enjoyed it. I liked Pete. I respected him. I got thinking about it; I didn’t know Rick, but I knew who he was. I respected the fact that he was a college graduate and he certainly had the right personality. I spoke to Tuck and Jack and said, “What harm would it do to offer rick a job? If he accepts fine; if he likes it, we have a good employee.” Jack, Tuck, Margaret Hahn who was Vice President and Secretary and I all agreed that made sense to offer Rick a job. The more we discussed it we felt it would be more than just a job. We’ll offer him the opportunity to work in all the departments of the bank the way they did for me. We’ll offer him the position of Management Trainee. He was offered that position and he started out at the bottom just the way I did. He had the opportunity to grow with the bank. He was exposed to all of the areas of the bank, but he did not work in all of them. That is the way rick was hired; he accepted the position and he had been there ever since. (He went to work there in 1981. He is now President & CEO in 2018 Ed.) He likes it and is doing a great job. The bank has grown. When I retired in 2009, I think we were around $560 million in assets; we are topping around a billion in assets today. Rick has done an outstanding job since 2009. He has the confidence of the board. He is always looking out for our constituents. We have three constituents: the shareholders, our customers, and our employees. Every decision we make, we look at how it will benefit those three constituents. There has to be a benefit so else the decision is not a positive one.
JP: In general how has banking changed since 1971 to today?
JP: Automation, it is a much different situation today than it was when I came up through the ranks. When I was first working everything was done manually. We had no computers; it was a very manual process. Today everything is automated. We even have machines that count the money when you go in to get cash. I am old-fashioned I enjoy the eyeball to eyeball contact with my customers. I fully embrace the fact that many people would rather do to the ATM to get money or they would rather go on line and move money from one account to another, but given the chance of dealing with the ATM, dealing with the computer, or dealing the individual, I will always go to the individual. I enjoy talking with the individual, I enjoy checking in on their family, talking world event. For such a hustle and bustle society today, especially in the urban areas, there is not time. That is a shame. In the end the customer loses out. I understand that some customers want speed, but not all of us want that. The customers who do crave the interaction with a live person are losing out.
JM: Is there anything that you would like to add to this interview before we close?
JP: No, I don’t think so. I am pleased that we have found one another. I worked for the bank during a time where there were a lot of possibilities. It was nothing that I did or no special skills, or special education that I had, but it was an opportunity that I embraced. I was in the right place at the right time. That is why my career advanced as rapidly as it did. Thinking back on it, there are very few individuals that were made a member of the Board of Directors of a bank before they were named President. That is very unusual and in my case unique. I was the first executive president ever in the history of the Salisbury Bank. I kept my eyes open as well as my ears and was very selective with my comments. I learned an awful lot. That was why I had a successful career. I loved my position, I work today and as long as my health allows me I will hang around as long as they want me. I think that I can help the bank and it is good for me.
JM: It is good for everybody. Thank you so much.
JP: You are very welcome.
Property of the Oral History Project: The Salisbury Association at the Scoville Memorial Library, Salisbury, Ct. 06068