Spokane Journal of Business

Carrying on a family tradition

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Maybe it was the traffic. Maybe it was the job at a monolithic bank. Maybe it wasnt just one thing.

Peter F. Stanton doesnt know what triggered it, but one day in the spring of 1982, the 26-year-old Spokane native woke up in his Seattle bachelor pad with a strong yearning to move back to the Lilac City.

Within a month, he was living here and working for Washington Trust Bank, the business his great-grandfather bought controlling interest in during the early 1900s, his grandfather had run, and his father was currently presiding over.

Within eight years, his father, Philip Stanton, handed the banks reins over to his son, making him its president and chief operating officer.

At 34 years old, Stanton was the youngest person on the banks executive teamby 10 yearsand reportedly the second-youngest Spokane bank president everhis dad was 29 years old when he became Washington Trusts president.

Now Im one of the oldest of the banks executives, says Stanton, who at 48 now serves as the banks chairman and CEO. We have a pretty young management team. The reason we are still strong is because we made the transition to the next generation successfully.

It was clear early on that Stanton was being groomed to take over the bank, says Randy Fewel, who worked at Washington Trust as a loan officer in the late 1980s and early 1990s and now is president and CEO of Spokane-based Inland Northwest Bank.

At the time, Stanton was working with the banks chief financial officer on the banks assets and liabilities model and handled Washington Trusts bond portfolio. Fewel says he recalls thinking that when Stanton was named president of the bank, he was awfully young for the job, though he knew even then that Stanton had the skills to lead the bank.

Little did I know that hed do it so darn well, Fewel says now. I knew hed do a good job, but hes taken that bank to a whole new level.

During Stantons tenure, the bank has had an era of growth unparalleled in its 102-year history.

When Stanton first returned to Spokane, Washington Trust had total assets of about $400 million, and operated just over a dozen branches, all in the local area. Today, the banks assets are about $2.3 billion, and it has 36 branches, including offices in the Seattle, Boise, and Tri-Cities markets.

Stanton says there wasnt any pressure for him to go into banking and join the family business, but from an early age, thats where his interests lied.

He moved to Seattle from Spokane during his eighth-grade year, after his stepfather landed a job on the West Side.

At 15, he got his first bank job, rolling coins at a Seattle institution. He worked summers through high school and college at a variety of jobs at Seattle banks, filling jobs ranging from messenger to teller.

Stanton earned a degree in business finance at the University of Oregon, and a masters in business administration from the University of Washington. He then went to work for Rainier National Bank, which was a big Seattle-based bank. He first worked in Rainiers Mercer Island branch, handling consumer loans, but shortly was transferred downtown to work with the banks chief financial officer to generate internal reports on the banks activities and performance.

He was working at Rainier when he decided to move back to Spokane.

Back then, working for a big bank was almost like working for the government, Stanton says. It seemed political and bureaucratic.

At that time, Washington Trust was the seventh largest bank headquartered in the state, and even its presence in Eastern Washington was dwarfed by Seafirst Bank and Rainier. Larger banks headquartered out of state since have bought both Seafirst and Rainier. With those institutions now based elsewhere, and with Washington Trusts growth, the Spokane company now is the largest commercial bank headquartered in the state, Stanton says. Sterling Savings Bank is larger, with about $6 billion in assets, but its a savings bank, while giant Washington Mutual, with $275 billion in assets, is a thrift.

In his first years at Washington Trust, Stanton says he never envisioned a scenario in which the Spokane bank would enter the Seattle market. When the big-bank mergers began, though, it left room in that market for smaller banks such as Washington Trust that could cater to smallby Seattle standardscommercial customers.

Washington Trusts Seattle branch is located on the 47th floor of a downtown skyscraper, and caters almost exclusively to commercial customers.

Frankly, our move into the Puget Sound has strengthened our ability to stay in Spokane and remain independent, Stanton says. We have diversification and good opportunity for our employees. Im not so sure I could say that if we were to have just stayed here.

Five generations of the Stanton familyincluding his generations childrencurrently own between 60 percent and 65 percent of the stock in WTB Financial Inc., the holding company that owns Washington Trust. He says the bank isnt likely to merge with a larger institution, because its still in a situation in which two or three of the stockholders could sit down in a room and decide whether a sale would go through. Its something he, as one of those two or three stockholders, doesnt have any desire to do and doesnt see happening.

Laid back style

The Stanton men have had different management styles through the years. His grandfather, Fred Stanton, was known as being a somewhat cantankerous and brusque character, says Peter Stanton.

Ive had old employees of the bank tell me, Your grandfather fired me three times. The younger Stanton recalls.

One day, after he was retired, Fred Stanton sold his house and everything in it except what fit in two suitcases, and moved to Hawaii without telling family members beforehand. He later moved back to Spokane and lived in the Rockwood South retirement community.

Peter Stanton says his dadnow 72 years old and fully retired from the bank, though still chairman of WTB Financialwas much more laid back when he managed the bank. He describes himself as being laid back like his dad.

Stanton says he can take charge of a situation quickly when he needs to, but adds, I dont have a huge need to control things. I learned from my dad that you hire the best people you can and let them do the job.

Fewel says he agrees with the description of Peter Stanton as being laid back, but says people shouldnt mistake that as meaning Stanton is complacent or is resting on his laurels.

He seems to be laid back, but I know hes thinking all the time, Fewel says. His mind is not laid back at any time.

Stanton says the bank is his passion and that while he plays golf frequently, he doesnt have a lot of hobbies.

He married for the second time a year and a half ago, and between he and his wife, Denise, they have four teenagers. Much of his free time is spent with them. This time of year, he often commutes to work from his lake home on the west side of Lake Coeur dAlene, spending his evenings there with his family.

Stantons son, Philipnamed after Peters fatheris working at the bank this summer as a messenger, though Stanton says he doesnt know yet whether his son is interested in the banking business. The family has become comfortable putting the banks leadership in the hands of people outside the family.

In 2000, Jack Heath was promoted to president and chief operating officer of the bank.

If were able to hire really good people, it doesnt have to be a family member in a leadership position, Stanton says.

He adds, though, that he still has plenty of years left on the job.

Linn  Parish
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Editor Linn Parish has worked for newspapers and magazines since 1996, with the bulk of that time being at the Journal. A Montana boy who has called Spokane home for some time now, Linn likes Northwest trails, Deep South foods, and lead changes in the ninth inning.

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