First Federal's CEO and president abruptly resigns; chief banking officer has also departed

By Peninsula Daily News staff

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 Federal 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 and in 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 Federal 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, Mathews, 53, was appointed education chair by the Washington Bankers Association and is also a 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 (Tenn.) 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.

In the press release, First Federal officials thanked both Mathews and Lowman for their service and contribution to the institution, and wished them well in future endeavors.

Hueth, a Sequim resident, has more than 25 years of banking experience.

He joined First Federal in December 2008, was elected executive vice president and chief financial officer in February 2009, and became a director of First Federal in 2010.

Hueth assumed the additional responsibility of chief risk officer in 2011 and that of chief operating officer this year.

Retail branch operations will continue to be directed by the appropriate division managers, First Federal said.

Last modified: December 22. 2012 8:26PM
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