In the small world of community banking in Northern Virginia, Terrie Spiro firmly believes she can go home.
So Spiro, at 43 a 21-year banking veteran, is now attempting to re-create her recent past and replicate its success as well. She took over as president and chief executive of Heritage Bank earlier this month, the same posts she held for seven years at Tysons National Bank, which she helped found early in the decade.
At the same time, she's corraled eight other former Tysons officials to join her in similar positions at Heritage, a 12-year-old bank with $62 million in assets, a McLean headquarters and a branch in the Loudoun County community of Sterling.
All eight bankers had scattered to other financial institutions when Tysons was first sold last year to MainStreet BankGroup Inc. of Martinsville, Va., and, in turn, a few months later to BB&T Corp., North Carolina's fourth-largest bank.
Among former Tysons National officials joining Spiro at Heritage are John P. Carroll, executive vice president and chief operating officer; Janet A. Valentine, executive vice president and chief financial officer; and N. George Assaf, senior vice president and chief business development officer.
Now, Spiro has embarked on a business plan that's a direct clone of her days at Tysons: Market the bank to small- and medium-size businesses that need loans of up to about $3 million and then take care of the business owners' personal banking needs as well.
Toward that end, Spiro and her reunited cohorts have started to peruse their printouts of former customers to reacquaint themselves.
"I've had a lot of customers calling and saying they want to resume their banking relationship," Spiro said. "And I've got a large Rolodex. We're calling to let them know we're here. I call it `old friends, new ideas.' "
Lewis Sosnowick, a vice president at Koonce Securities in Bethesda who analyzes bank securities, applauded Heritage's hiring of Spiro, saying, "They have acquired a very, very sharp president, an extremely capable person."
He described Heritage's recent earnings as "anemic," but said, "We think she's going to turn it around. I'm extremely bullish." He said he personally had bought about 5,000 shares in Heritage over the last four months and is recommending the stock to customers as well. (It closed yesterday unchanged at $4.)
Spiro, a tall woman with an engaging demeanor, says she has learned over the years how a community bank can compete with other local banks and the out-of-state banking behemoths that have come to dominate the Washington area banking scene.
"Everyone's in the banking business, whether they're a bank or not," she said during an interview in her bank boardroom last week. "You have to be extremely focused on where you can be successful," which leads her to the emphasis on small-business lending, while maintaining Heritage's existing portfolio of consumer loans.
Spiro said she believes small businesses seeking financial help at such institutions as Bank of America or First Union are "going to be relegated to a branch manager or maybe [customers are] expected to build a relationship with someone who's not even in the area. Because of their size, it does not typically allow them to go outside the box in the way they treat you.
"The only way for us is to provide value-added service, making you feel special," Spiro said.
"I'm a fanatic about customer service," she added. "It's the little things when you come in here: Did someone greet you? Did you get eye contact? Was someone pleasant to you? Did you get a sense this was a friendly place? I will tell you it's hard work. You have to be on it every day."
And maybe, as is the case at Heritage, provide a seasonal touch to the decor, too, by placing pumpkins and blooming chrysanthemums on the floor of the lobby and a basket of red apples in the anteroom of the executive offices.
Still, Spiro said, "it's a sure death for a community bank . . . to try to basically be a bank to everybody." So, for example, Heritage will not make many car loans, although it might make an occasional exception for an existing customer who needs one.
Spiro was an English major at Jacksonville University, but a stint in a graduate English program at Florida State University convinced her that teaching was not for her. She ended up getting a job as a management trainee in commercial lending at Barnett Banks in Jacksonville, her hometown. She subsequently progressed up the corporate ladder at three banks in the District before helping to raise $7 million -- some of it her own -- to open Tysons National in mid-1991.
"It was a horrendous time to start a bank," Spiro said, recalling the massive failures of banks that had made billions of dollars' worth of bad real estate loans. "We got rejected 50 percent of the time by people we asked to invest."
Spiro immersed herself in the burgeoning business community in Northern Virginia, serving as chairman of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce for a year and working on a variety of other civic ventures. Perhaps not coincidentally, Tysons National flourished, totaling $115 million in assets by last year at its four offices. When MainStreet came calling, the 18 original key investors and others reaped the benefit: The bank was sold for $17.2 million, nearly 2 1/2 times its book value.
"Our shareholders made a nice return for themselves," Spiro said with a large smile.
Ditto for herself. She said she had a golden parachute -- she declined to say how much it was, but described it as "a very attractive arrangement" -- and left as the bank was sold.
As part of her departure deal, she agreed to stay out of Northern Virginia banking for 18 months.
Shortly thereafter, MainStreet sold Tysons to BB&T, leaving Spiro and others with original Tysons stock with a second windfall.
"I wish them very well," Spiro said of BB&T, smiling. She described her BB&T holdings as "a large percentage of my net worth" and said she's hoping that someday it, too, might be acquired and "I'll get a triple out of my [original Tysons National] stock."
Spiro spent part of the time when she was barred from being a Northern Virginia banker working as a consultant at one of her previous employers, Riggs National Bank, and then BB&T allowed her to consult at Heritage for several months before she became the bank's chief executive Oct. 1. Now, she said, she's determined to figure out "what would be the best way to maximize shareholder value" at Heritage.
"It's always pretty much made money," Spiro said. "But its financial performance has been erratic. Its profits have been up and down." Last year, Heritage netted just $133,000 and through the first half of 1999, another $200,000.
"I'd like to see us pierce $100 million [in assets] in the next two or three years," she said. "I'm impatient for success. I ask everyone here to day in and day out accomplish something for the company."