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Virginia bank a magnet for former midstate leadersOne-time Waypoint CEO Charles Pearson Jr. is the most recent Central Pa. banker to join Old Dominion National

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When leaders opt against staying with their banks after a merger, non-compete agreements often leave them looking for new opportunities far away from where they got their start. But the relationships they forged early in their careers stick with them.

That explains, in part, how four former bankers from Central Pennsylvania ended up at a small bank outside Washington D.C.

Charles Pearson, former CEO of Harris Savings Bank and its successor, Waypoint Financial Corp., became a director on the board of Old Dominion National Bank last week.

Pearson joins a growing list of Central Pennsylvania bankers on the leadership roster at the Tysons Corner, Va. institution. Former Tower Bancorp CFO Mark Merrill is CEO of Old Dominion, former Metro Bank professional Lauren Kohr is Old Dominon's chief risk officer and former Graystone Tower Bank chief information officer Howard Stein is Old Dominion's COO.

The migration from the midstate to northern Virginia started with Merrill, who left Graystone after Susquehanna Bancshares absorbed it in 2012. Per the terms of a non-compete agreement, Merrill could not work for any bank within 50 miles of Susquehanna.

So he moved south.

Merrill held executive positions at banks in northern Virginia and southern Maryland before launching Student Loan Edge, a startup that provided an automated platform for employer-provided education benefits.

He rejoined the banking world in December 2015 as executive vice president of strategy for Old Dominion, where he helped the bank through a major capital campaign.

That was when he started digging back into his roots in Central Pennsylvania. Old Dominion attracted 185 shareholders in 2016, 85 of whom live in Pennsylvania.

"You kind of look back and see those relationships that were building over 10 years ago, they don't go away," Merril said in an interview last week. "If you truly develop relationships that go beyond just business, those relationships later kind of come back full circle."

Those relationships extend to co-workers as well as investors. Kohr and Stein joined Merrill at Old Dominion last month, followed last week by Pearson. Merrill expects to bring on another two or three directors with ties to the midstate within the next six months.

Despite these ties, Merrill does not expect to see Old Dominion develop a physical presence close to the midstate any time soon, although the bank does already have some clients in the area. The bank is relatively small, with about $125 million in assets and four branch locations.

Merrill is not the only Harrisburg-area banking ex-pat to continue attracting professionals from the midstate. Andrew Samuel - who worked for Pearson at Waypoint and with Merrill at Graystone/Tower - brought a similar team of executives and back-office professionals with him to a bank in Florida when he left Susquehanna Bank.

This pattern is one Merrill expects to repeat as banks continue to merge and reorganize. 

"When you sell those companies and create value for the shareholders, it almost forces you if you want to stay in the industry to set up camp somewhere else," he said.

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Jennifer Wentz

Jennifer Wentz

Jennifer Wentz covers Lancaster County, York County, financial services, taxation and legal services. Have a tip or question for her? Email her at jwentz@cpbj.com. Follow her on Twitter, @jenni_wentz.

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Inter Bank rates September 12, 2017 1:47 am

Investors are coming into Virginia rapidly. Govt should support them to start new business.

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