By Peninsula Daily News staff
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PORT ANGELES — The president and CEO of First Federal Savings and Loan Association has abruptly resigned.
Levon L. Mathews resigned as the bank's president and CEO, “effective immediately,” according to a First Federal press release sent to the Peninsula Daily News at the end of the business day Friday.
Gina E. Lowman, First Federal's chief banking officer and senior vice president, also resigned, the savings bank announced in the press release, but she told the PDN that Friday's timing of that announcement was "purely coincidental" and that she had left in November because she wanted to spend more time with her family.
She added that she was surprised by Mathews' resignation.
The resignations will delay First Federal's plans to convert to a stock savings bank from a mutual savings bank until First Federal establishes “a cohesive executive team,” the bank's chairman, Richard G. Kott, said in the press release.
Larry J. Hueth, First Federal's executive vice president and chief financial officer, was named interim president and CEO.
Employees who asked not to be named told the PDN that Mathews' departure had been preceded by an investigation by an outside human-resources expert, and that the investigation had been prompted by letters written by First Fed employees to Kott and other members of the bank's board of directors.
Both Lowman and Kott said they couldn't confirm that report. Attempts to reach Mathews were unsuccessful.
In a telephone interview Friday evening with the PDN, Kott said only that Mathews' resignation "has nothing to do with the financial condition of the bank."
Kott would not comment on whether the board of directors had asked Mathews to resign. Mathews was also a member of the board.
But Kott added that Lowman's resignation was not related to Mathews' resignation.
There were no explanations given in the press release for the two resignations, and Hueth refused to say anything beyond what was in it. "It stands on its own," he said.
Mathews had been president and CEO of First Federal for the past three years.
He promoted Lowman to chief banking officer from director of marketing and sales shortly after taking the helm in September 2009. She was in overall charge of the bank's retail branches.
First Federal is the only locally owned community bank on the North Olympic Peninsula. Founded in 1923, it is based in Port Angeles and has branches there, Sequim, Port Townsend and Forks plus a lending center in the Kitsap County city of Poulsbo. It has more than 150 employees across the Peninsula.
Its total assets have grown from $388.6 million in 1996 to $716.6 million in 2009 to about $781.8 million as of Sept. 30 this year. It was the state's 18th largest bank in 2011, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.
“The timing [of the announcement of her resignation with Mathews' resignation] is purely coincidental,” Lowman said in a telephone interview from her Port Angeles home Saturday.
“I had no understanding that Levon Mathews was going to be resigning.
“I decided I wanted to spend time with my family,” she added, saying that her decision was not made lightly but that "it's purely a lifestyle decision, nothing more complicated than that.”
Lowman said she has been gone from First Federal, where she began as marketing manager 14 years ago, since the third week of November.
“I did not resign suddenly,” she said. “When I learned that Mr. Mathews had resigned, it was a surprise.”
She said she has “nothing but good things to say about First Federal — its management team, its board of directors. It had been a very good place for me to work these 14 years, and I will continue to be a customer for First Federal and wish them well."
Plans by First Federal to convert to a shareholder company were announced by Mathews and Kott last May and follow a national trend in which mutuals like First Fed have converted to stock ownership to raise millions of dollars in new capital.
Common stock would be sold first to First Federal's depositors and then, if shares are still available, to the general public. The plans have been under review by state and federal bank regulators.
Last fall, Matthews, 53, was appointed education chair by the Washington Bankers Association and is also member of the group's board of directors. He is also a member of the American Bankers Association's Membership Council, the ABA's mutual institutions council, chairman of the Washington Financial League and board member of the Association of Washington Business.
He is a former member of the board of directors for the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Memphis region, and had a 26-year banking career at Lafayette (Ind.) National Bank.
Before joining First Federal, he had served as executive vice president and director of private banking for Regions Financial Corp., a $144 billion financial holding company based in Birmingham, Ala.
Here is the First Federal press release:
FIRST FEDERAL SAVINGS AND LOAN ASSOCIATION OF PORT ANGELES ANNOUNCES MANAGEMENT CHANGES AND POSTPONEMENT OF MUTUAL TO STOCK CONVERSION
(December 21, 2012; Port Angeles, Washington): First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Port Angeles, today announced that its President, Chief Executive Officer and Director, Mr. Levon L. Mathews, has resigned, effective immediately.
First Federal would like to thank Mr. Mathews for his service and contribution to First Federal and wishes him well in his future endeavors. The duties of the President and Chief Executive Officer have been assumed on an interim basis by Larry J. Hueth.
Mr. Hueth has over 25 years of banking experience, having joined First Federal in December 2008. He was elected Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in February 2009.
Mr. Hueth assumed the additional responsibilities of Chief Risk Officer and Chief Operating Officer in 2011 and 2012, respectively. He became a director of First Federal in 2010. Mr. Hueth and his wife are residents of Sequim, Washington.
First Federal also announced that Ms. Gina E. Lowman, First Federal's Chief Banking Officer, has resigned.
Retail branch operations will continue to be directed by the appropriate division managers. First Federal thanks Ms. Lowman for her many years of service and contributions to First Federal and wishes her well in her future endeavors.
As a result of the management changes, First Federal has delayed its plans to convert from a Washington-chartered mutual savings bank to a Washington-chartered stock savings bank.
“The Board of Directors intends to establish a cohesive executive management team before we proceed with the conversion process," Mr. Richard G. Kott, Chairman of the Board, stated.
First Federal is a Washington chartered mutual savings bank primarily serving the North Olympic Peninsula region of Washington through its nine full-service branches.
At September 30, 2012, it had assets of approximately $781.8 million.