For more than 20 years, Martin T. “Marty” Neat has served as president and CEO of the local lending institutions that epitomizes Salisbury perhaps like no other. First Shore Federal Savings & Loan Association has to be considered “Salisbury’s bank.”
While corporate banks have always played a local-market role, the rural community banks have seen their surges and retreats, and upstarts have entered and exited, First Shore seemingly sails firmly — though quietly — along.
Neat assumed the top role at First Shore in 1991, succeeding David F. Rodgers, a man who was legendary in both the local banking and civic service realms. Neat walked lightly in filling those big shoes; the bank has grown and prospered and kept to its local mission of helping homeowners and businesses.
In addition to its two Salisbury locations, there are branches in Pocomoke City, Berlin, Ocean Pines, Snow Hill, Fruitland and Ocean View-Millville, Delaware — with a branch planned for an opening this year in Millsboro.
First Shore reports having assets of nearly $300 million; the bank ended 2013 with record total capital of more than $38.6 million and a net worth ratio of 13.3 percent.
Neat recently completed a two-year term as national chairman of the America’s Mutual Banks, an association of mutual financial institutions dedicated to preserving and advancing the mutual banking form.
It is his local affiliations, however, that are as amazing as they are enviable: He has served as chairman of the board of trustees of Peninsula Regional Medical Center, chairman of the general public fundraising campaign for the Salisbury Zoo, a board member and past chairman of Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Service and past chairman of the boards of the United Way and Community Foundation, among other offices.
Neat is also a member of the American Bankers Association, Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Federal Facilities Advisory Board, the investment committee for the Community Foundation, treasurer of the Magi Fund and a member and past chairman of the Greater Salisbury Committee.
Currently Vice Chairman of the Wor-Wic Community College Board of Trustees, Neat chaired a 2002 capital campaign at Wor-Wic that raised $3 million for technology, nursing and child care.
He has two master’s degrees from Salisbury University in business administration and history and an undergraduate degree from Frostburg State University.
After graduation, he stayed in Frostburg and worked as development coordinator for the city government. He came to Ocean City to serve as grants coordinator under Harry W. Kelley, then worked both in Salisbury and on Capitol Hill for then-Congressman Roy P. Dyson.
Q. I have to start in a personal way. We first met in 1979 when you were fresh out of college and I was just entering college. Could you have ever imagined then that you’d have the life you have now?
A. Given that we were both in Ocean City at the time, I’m not sure either of us envisioned being in Salisbury. But I’m glad it’s worked out that way.
Q. It would seem to be the sort of business in which you can really make a difference in people’s lives and affect business.
A. When Dave Rodgers interviewed me for a position at First Shore Federal, he asked me what I wanted to do in life. I told him that I wanted to make a difference. He said that’s what he wanted to do as well. In my years prior to coming to First Shore, I often encountered instances where people had a problem finding and affording a good, decent place to live. First Shore was founded to be a good place for people to save and borrow – it was a natural answer to those community needs.
Q. What’s it like being president of a hometown banking institution.
A. It’s an honor and a privilege. I’m particularly fortunate to be at an institution with the reputation of First Shore, with a very community minded board of directors, and an outstanding management team and staff. I couldn’t ask for much more.
Q. I can only think of two people that have ever run this bank — at least in my time — you and Dave Rodgers.
A. When I first moved to Salisbury in 1981, one of the first things that struck me about this community is that it was progressive and the business community seemed to be filled with outstanding community leaders – people like Frank Morris, Herb Fincher, Henry Parker, Bob Cook and so many others. I particularly saw Dave Rodgers as such a leader – he chaired the 1982 Salisbury Sesqui-bicentennial and was a former Jaycee and I got to know him during that process.
I joined the staff of First Shore in 1985 and had the privilege of working for Mr. Rodgers for six years before he retired to study for the priesthood.
It wasn’t tough for me to envision him as a priest – and he was an outstanding business man and community leader. Unfortunately he passed away before he could really fulfill his calling as a priest but his legacy of service lives on in many of us.
Q. I would think to be a bank president in a community like this, you would have to really be willing to know a lot of people and like a lot of people.
A. Getting to know, work with and like a lot of people is the best part of my job.
Q. You did your graduate work at Salisbury University. What do you think of the evolution of that institution?
A. I couldn’t be more proud of having studied there – and I actually had the opportunity to teach there for a number of years as an adjunct professor in the business school. The students are outstanding and teaching was one of the most challenging opportunities that I’ve had over the years.
Q. The recent recession was hard on homeowners, had on local banks — heck, hard on every bank. What was the status in Salisbury?
A. The Eastern Shore banking community has had its share of hits during the past decade really. There have been several banks that were particularly hard hit and are no longer independent. A number of banks have navigated through relatively well though and I think the future looks good. I really have to say that First Shore has seen its financial position stay strong and in fact improve significantly over the past few years.
We went through a period where the appreciation of home values was dramatic. Some people thought that it was a “new normal” for home values. But when the bubble burst, many of those people, and their lenders, were hit pretty hard.
Q. Things seem to have improved. Has the local economy adjusted?
A. The local economy is certainly not robust but it has improved. Housing values are stable. Unemployment is down although not to the levels we’ve seen in past expansions. Interest rates are extremely attractive to those who want to borrow. Unfortunately that’s a double edge sword for savings customers who depend upon that interest to fund living needs.
Q. Was enough learned on a macro-level to head off future housing-market-bubble-bursts?
A. It’s hard to say. Our national economy has a way of moving from one bubble to another (remember the dot-coms of the late 1990s) and yet it remains the envy of the modern world.
There clearly were mistakes made – and too often greed enters the equation – but we’re still blessed with a country and its economy that is strong and resilient.
Q. After you worked in Ocean City for the town government, you headed deep into politics and constituent service to work for Roy Dyson.
A. I worked for Congressman Dyson for four years (1981-’85). They were great years. Most of my time was spent on the Shore with some opportunity to see what Capitol Hill was about.
I had the privilege of working with some of the most capable people that I’ve ever known and really could get involved in a lot of community work and problems.
Q. Were you there when the office had a bit of an implosion?
A. Actually, I left in March 1985 and the problems and tragedy that the office experienced came somewhat later – primarily in 2007 and 2008. By then I was really an outsider.
I was sorry to see the problems – and tried to learn from some of the mistakes that I saw from the outside.
Q. What have you carried with you from that experience?
A. Authority and influence are only worthwhile if it’s used to the benefit of others.
Q. You are known as a community cheerleader. There’s not a board or important community cause that you haven’t been a part of. What causes have you found the most rewarding?
A. I’ve worked with so many good people and good causes and it’s tough to point out a few. PRMC, the Zoo, the United Way, the Red Cross, SNHS have all been incredibly rewarding.
But I’d have to honestly say that the one cause that I am most proud of having been involved with is the Community Foundation and particularly its Perdue Kresge Challenge grant program of the early 2000s.
Through the P/K Challenge, 20 local nonprofits (including the Community Foundation) raised more than $12 million for the various agencies and those funds now total nearly $18 million. Moreover, the funds have granted out more than $6 million over the past decade.
Twenty different community groups had successful campaigns – different people, different strategies, different goals but they all succeeded.
The community was incredibly generous and committed and of course the generosity of Frank and Mitzi Perdue, who contributed $4 million alone, which was so much a part of the success of the campaigns will live on in perpetuity – just like those funds at the Community Foundation.
It was a community at its very best and I was honored to play a part.
Q. You’ve dabbled in politics a bit, but never put yourself in front of voters. Why not?
A . I’m interested in public service and I certainly believe that it is our obligation to be involved. But I’ve never felt that simply running for office fulfilled the obligation for service.
I’ve tried to find ways to serve to the best of my ability and in my own way.
Q. A common thread in these Independent Q&As is that there’s a sense things are turning around in Salisbury.
A. I’m very optimistic that things are moving in the right direction. I certainly think they are in the downtown area.
I’m particularly impressed with the young leadership that we’ve seen over the past several years.
Q. What is your favorite thing about living here?
A. I’m a fan of the beach and Ocean City. I like the fact that the area is big enough to support so many different causes and groups but small enough for us to really be able to make a difference.
Our community really does have the ability and the resources to solve its problems when we work together.
Q. Tell me about your love for baseball. Where did that develop?
A. I have a group of friends who have managed to visit every major league baseball stadium over the past 20 years.
This year’s trip to Minnesota will mark the completion of our trips – we’ll have hit every stadium. We actually completed the cycle in 2011 for all 30 major league cities but several cities built new stadiums so we had to go back.
We’re calling this year’s trip “If they build it, we will come.”
They guys are all former Salisbury residents and baseball fans – Jim Vojcsik, Jay Mason, Jack Long and myself.
My own interest in baseball goes back to my childhood when my step father would pack us into the car for a family vacation from Western Maryland – and that invariably meant visiting at least one stadium.
So I grew up traveling to Pittsburgh or Baltimore or Cincinnati. My stepfather gave me so much more than simply a love of baseball but I think these stadium visits are one way that I do honor his memory – and have a great time while I’m doing it.
Q. An engineer once told me that your bank building (built in 1964) is the “most architecturally significant building in the city of Salisbury.” It truly is an iconic structure, isn’t it?
A. I’m no expert on architecture but our building is an example of mid-century modern architecture and there’s not much of that in our area.
That being said, it’s our corporate headquarters and we’re quite proud of what we’ve been able to do from it over the years.
Q. I understand you are planning some building renovations and improvements.
A. We are. We’ll soon have an ATM with internal office renovations, a new elevator, and new lighting over the next few months.
In total, we’re investing more than $250,000 downtown – and of course so much of what we do now is electronically and we’re improving many of those systems that are based downtown as well.
Q. Do you sense the importance of your institution to the community and the downtown?
A. I don’t know if I do but we’ve been headquartered in downtown Salisbury for all of our 60 years of existence.
We’ve been fortunate to thrive and grow. And we’re looking forward to growing with the Lower Shore community for many years to come.
Q. What might you say to other business leaders who might be reluctant to commit their time to community causes?
A. The best message I can give is one that Frank Morris gave to me many years ago. I had a small part of a committee that Frank, Dick Henson and Bob Cook, among others, headed up to save our local YMCA.
It was nearly in foreclosure but those leaders weren’t going to allow that to happen. At the end of the campaign, Frank passed out certificates to the volunteers – mine read as follows: “We cannot have a better life without improving our community. Our particular duty is to do those things that we are capable of doing.”
It was good advice then – and it’s good advice now. Just do what you can do …