Senior management at Washington Bancorp and The United Mine Workers of America appear to be the obvious winners in the sale of the company and its principal subsidiary, The National Bank of Washington.
By selling the company, the UMW exchanges an admittedly unsatisfactory investment for greater financial security. For its part, Washington Bancorp's management guarantees itself a measure of security by becoming partners -- if only minor ones -- in the investor group that has agreed to buy the holding company and its subsidiary.
Considered in a different context, however, the transaction, which assures the retention of Washington Bancorp's senior management, also assures the banking community of retaining one of its most effective voices in the development of the industry and the region. Some might argue that, as a result, banking and local government are also winners in the NBW sale.
A D.C. government official indirectly raised the issue in a conversation last week by suggesting that Luther H. Hodges Jr., Washington Bancorp's chairman and chief executive officer, has emerged as the unofficial spokesman for the local banking community. Some may disagree with the premise, but, the truth is, Hodges, in only four years as chairman and chief executive officer of NBW, has become the most visible and, arguably, the most effective articulator of banking's positions on regional business and economic issues.
To say that Hodges is the D.C. banking industry's leading spokesman may be an exaggeration, but there can be no question that he has firmly established himself as one of the District's most influential bankers. Not only is his input sought regularly by government and business leaders, but Hodges has positioned himself to affect decisions that have an impact on commerce in the region.
Once-familiar names from the banking community have given way to Hodges', for example, as vice president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, immediate past chairman of the BOT's international business development committee, co-chairman of the Washington-Baltimore Regional Association and trustee of the Greater Washington Research Center. Hodges chaired Mayor Marion Barry's Downtown Committee and accompanied the mayor, as a representative of the private sector, on a trade mission to China last year.
A member of Hodges' banking fraternity agrees with the premise posed by the District official last week. "They're right. It's not that [Hodges] is the spokesman for the bankers but, first of all, Luther is a politician and he understands the value of good public relations. He doesn't do it under the auspices of the [D.C.] bankers association but he sees a void and he has moved to fill it."
That is precisely what Hodges did recently in the matter of the simmering controversy surrounding a report which examined the relative competitive positions of banks in the region.
Privately, local bankers -- indeed, the leadership of the D.C. Bankers Association -- have taken exception to most of the findings in the report, which was done for the Greater Washington Research Center. But the DCBA has yet to challenge or endorse the report in a way that might be helpful to public understanding of the issue.
Hodges, on the other hand, saw a void and accepted the challenge presented by the report. In a rebuttal that was published in The Post last Sunday, he acknowledged that outside competition poses a "problem" for local banks. At the same time, however, Hodges offered readers a different perspective of the problem, while suggesting a possible scenario in which banking and economic development strategies might strengthen the industry here.
To be sure, some solutions that Hodges proposes are open to question. His well-known advocacy of a strategy that would make Washington an international financial center, for example, may be wishful thinking, given the realities of the makeup of the local private sector.
On the other hand, by taking a broader view of the region's economy in his overall approach to addressing the local banking industry's problems, Hodges defines the difference between a visionary and the bottom-line-oriented banker.
That much is clear in the continuing debate over the pros and cons of a financing package for a proposed commercial project in the Shaw community. Above all else, NBW's commitment stands up to scrutiny.
While larger D.C. banks were reluctant to finance the start of the project -- notwithstanding a guarantee of repayment by the D.C. government -- NBW agreed to be the lead bank in putting together the loan package. Under new management and new owners, NBW's commitment might have been different.
It's not difficult to understand why so many business and government leaders were interested in the sale of NBW.