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Marvin Schoenhals wrote the book on successful transitions.

Good morning everyone,

Back in the early 1990s, a banker who had just arrived from Michigan visited the office of the Delaware Business Review.

Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals came to Delaware to revive WSFS or Wilmington Savings Fund Society. I took a liking to the plain-spoken Midwesterner. After all, I had arrived from Wisconsin a few years earlier as part of a turnaround for the Business Review.

WSFS, founded in the 1830s, had survived the Civil War and the Great Depression but had fallen on hard times.

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A number of hare-brained strategies that included a 30-story office tower in downtown Wilmington, nonbank acquisitions and some spectacularly stupid loans threatened to sink the place.

Arriving alone at our office in Newport, Schoenhals discussed his keep it simple approach toward saving WSFS.

He admitted later on that regulators gave the struggling thrift far more leeway for its turnaround effort that we see today.

WSFS not only recovered but thrived as it made painful decisions that included selling off downstate branches. It was a painful but necessary decision Schoenhalssaid it a past interview.

Later, however, new branch offices were built and predictions that Schoenhals would ride out of town after the turnaround did not come true. Instead, Skip stayed around and became active in the public policy in areas such as education.

But Schoenhals’ greatest feat came in 2007 when the board named veteran Delaware Valley banker Mark Turner as CEO.

Turner, sharingSchenhal’s low-key approach and laser focus, took WSFS to the, pardon the cliché, the next level.

While the Pennsylvania expansion plans of its much larger rival, Wilmington Trust, misfired, WSFS, successfully expanded into the affluent Philadelphia suburbs.

It also snapped up Christiana Bank and Trust, First National Bank of Wyoming and Sun National Bank deposits in Delaware. By many measures, it is the largest bank based in the Delaware Valley.

The solid foundation built under Schoenhals weathered the financial crises as acquisitions and internal growth continued.

Better yet, WSFS poured money into training and educating staff, an area neglected by many banks on an acquisition tear.

Now, Turner is passing the torch to veteran banker Roger Levenson, who cut his teeth on integrating the acquisitions and bolstering customer service.

Following in their footsteps won’t be easy, but Levenson has two great role models who built a financial services company the right way.

The odds are good that in 14 years or so, WSFS will be around to celebrate its 200th anniversary. It should be a heck of a party.

Enjoy your day. The final newsletter for the week will be posted tomorrow. – Doug Rainey, publisher

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