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Bob Bauchman’s return to Vero

STORY BY MILTON R. BENJAMIN, (Week of January 26, 2012)
Photo of Vero Beach Utilities Customer

Robert W. Bauchman, for more than a decade the face of Northern Trust in our community following its acquisition of locally owned Beach Bank in 1995, has returned to Vero from California – this time to head the next-door office of Wilmington Trust.

Bauchman, 62, who spent the past three years as president of Northern Trust’s San Diego region before retiring on Oct. 31 after a 33-year-career with the company, concedes that it feels a little funny to have returned to Vero as managing director of the local office of a direct competitor.

“I don’t see my role as trying to poach clients from Northern Trust,” Bauchman said.  “I spent over 30 years with the organization, have a tremendous amount of respect for the organization and what they do.  I like the people there and have a great relationship with them.  But I think Wilmington can be a very viable and effective alternative in the market.”

Bauchman said he and his wife, Maureen, decided last summer that he would retire and they would move back to Vero Beach – “we didn’t have any family in California,” and the cost of living out there was “really prohibitive” – and he imagined he would probably get involved in retirement “in a not-for-profit in some way.

“I was involved in so many different boards here when I lived here that I thought there might be some type of position here that would be of interest to me that I could at least stay involved, stay active,” he said.  “I never anticipated that one of the things that might develop was this opportunity here at Wilmington Trust.”

But that began to change following a conversation with Halsey Smith, managing director of Wilmington Trust Florida, who for the last half dozen years has been overseeing the Vero office from his base in the Palm Beaches.  Bauchman said he knew Smith from serving alongside him – before he moved to Southern California – on the board of Riverside Theatre.

“I think Wilmington had decided that Vero Beach is too important of a market not to have somebody here permanently – somebody who is in place and who does all the things they would expect in terms of getting involved in the community, staying in front of the clients, and of course marketing the company’s products and services,” Bauchman said.

While island residents know Wilmington Trust primarily from its role as a leader in wealth management, founded more than a century ago to provide trust services to the duPont family, the company’s core banking business in Delaware had been battered during the current downtown by severe trouble in its construction loan portfolio.

The result:  in late 2010, Wilmington Trust was acquired by M&T Bank, a Buffalo, NY-based superregional bank that took over Wilmington’s retail and commercial banking operations, and consolidated its own wealth management business into the wealth management unit of Wilmington under the Wilmington name.

After a number of conversations with executives at Wilmington Trust and subsequently M&T Bank, Bauchman said he was invited to fly back to New York this fall for meetings with M&T’s Chairman and CEO.

“It kind of demonstrated to me a little about how M&T operates and how serious they are about wanting to make sure they have the right people in place,” he said.  “Even though some might think that little Vero Beach is an out of the way office, it’s not – and when they put someone in a position like this, they want to make sure it is the right person for the job.”

So three weeks ago this past Monday, Bauchman moved into his new office on Beachland Boulevard – just down the street from the new Northern Trust building he built following the 2004 hurricanes – to begin “ratcheting up Wilmington’s physical presence in terms of having someone here who lives here, works here, plays here, and becomes an active member of the community in representing the organization. 

“It’s not to say Wilmington has not had people here,” he said.  “We’ve had trust administrators, we’ve had portfolio managers, we’ve had some bankers here, but I don’t think there’s been the permanency that they need to have to really make a statement and to develop a strong client following.

“Some of the things I would expect to do are going to be similar (to what I did at Northern) from the standpoint that I certainly will get involved in some community activities,” Bauchman said. “I’ve already been approached by two organizations to join their boards.  I haven’t made any commitments yet in that respect principally because I feel that in these initial weeks and months here, number one I’ve got to become familiar with a different organization.

“The business is similar – it’s the wealth management business – we’re offering similar products and services, but everybody delivers it a little bit differently,” he said.  “The investment strategy might have some variations from one institution to another.  Certainly I need to get familiar with the programs, the systems, things of that nature.

“Secondly, I need to focus some time on getting to know the client base.  So in these first weeks, I have already spent a fair amount of time meeting with clients, the majority of which are here in Vero Beach, but they also have clients located elsewhere.  I want to get in front of the clients, obviously meet them, but also make sure that they now know that there’s somebody here that’s leading this office that if any issues come up, if there are any concerns, any questions that they have, I can be the go to person in that respect. 

“Then obviously I want to help in terms of building the business,” Bauchman said.  “I think that Wilmington understands this is a tremendous market.  Vero Beach has gone through some difficult times as the rest of Florida has, but I think there are attractions to this community that will continue to lead people to want to relocate here.”

Bauchman said one of the things he is going to be focusing on is making contact with M&T clients who are not now doing business with Wilmington Trust.

“M&T has a lot of banking clients up and down the Treasure Coast,” he said.  “That’s going to be a real primary focal point for me in certainly this first year here, trying to make the connection with the M&T clients who live in this market and make sure they understand what it is they we are doing and how when they make that decision to move assets to Florida, take up residency on a permanent basis, we’re here and available to help them.”

Bauchman looks back on his three years in the San Diego area as “a positive experience.

“San Diego is a beautiful city.  There was a lot of business coming out of La Jolla, particularly in the wealth management.  It was a fun area to work in.  It was very entrepreneurial.  It was an interesting experience.  We enjoyed it.

“But I think we kind of knew all along that whenever it became time to hang it up, which is what I thought I was going to do, that we would probably come back here,” he said.  “We have a lot of family here in Florida.  Two of our kids who are out of school came back to Florida.  We have another one who is in his senior year at Alabama, and we think he will end up back here.  My wife has a brother and his family, and cousins, so that was something that we missed.

“And frankly, when I decided last summer to retire, and started thinking about the financial aspects of living in California, I thought, you know, it’s a beautiful state.  But Florida is a pretty nice place, too.”

At the end of our conversation, Bauchman comes back to the “great 13 years” he had here at Northern Trust.

“The first person I talked to when I arrived in town was Scott Alexander,” who succeeded him as head of the Vero office of Northern Trust.  “I called Scott.  I wanted Scott to hear from me what I was doing.  I didn’t want him to hear that from somebody else.  We had a good conversation.  He certainly understands I am a competitor. 

“But I think it is not at all any kind of acrimonious relationship, and I want to make sure it stays that way,” Bauchman said.  “I like the people there and I have a great relationship with them, and I think for the most part the comments that they’ve made is that, they are very happy I’m back in the community.  One of them told me:  ‘Yes, you’re now with another institution, but we’re happy that you’re back because we don’t like to see good people leave the community, and you are one of the good people.’

“Hopefully that will be a positive for the community.”