Northwest Georgia Bank hires CEO to boost profits, capital

Northwest Georgia Bank hires CEO to boost profits, capital

August 22nd, 2013 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

A veteran banker who helped shore up East Tennessee's biggest independent bank two years ago has been hired to engineer another bank turnaround at Northwest Georgia Bank.

Steve Rownd, a 31-year career banker who previously served as state president for Capital Bank in Knoxville, is the new president and chief executive for Northwest Georgia Bank. He fills the vacancy left when Wesley Smith, the bank's previous president for 35 years, retired in February.

"I'm extremely optimistic about the future of the bank with Steve Rownd as CEO," said Hugh Peterson Jr., the chairman of the executive committee at Northwest Georgia Bank whose family owns a majority of the bank's stock. "Mr. Rownd has tremendous experience and we're going to pursue whatever avenue is best to maintain the bank and grow it and bring it back to its former self or even better. He brings great experience in managing banks and turning them around and finding capital."

Northwest Georgia is the biggest and oldest bank in Catoosa County and operates five offices in North Georgia and four offices across the state border in Hamilton County. The 109-year-old bank, based in Ringgold, Ga., has $435.4 million in assets. But it has lost more than $30 million in the past five years due to real estate and other loan losses, according to filings with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Northwest Georgia has operated under a federal consent order and increased regulatory oversight since 2010 because of its weakened capital position. Peterson said his family has made additional investments in the bank during the recession and he said the board is looking "at all options" to help recapitalize the bank, including a possible merger with another bank or additional stock issue.

"Naturally we would prefer to remain independent, but we're looking at all feasible options," Peterson said.

Scott Smith, the son of former CEO Wesley Smith and previously the bank president, will remain as executive vice president for Northwest Georgia Bank.

Rownd said in a statement he is "very honored" to become the bank CEO.

"The opportunities that lie ahead for building on the company's long history of success are exciting," Rownd said.

Rownd was hired by the financially struggling GreenBank in Greeneville, Tenn., in March 2010 and helped to merge the nearly $2 billion-asset bank with Capital Bank of Charlotte, N.C., in 2011.

Previously, Rownd also served as executive vice president and senior commercial banker for Fifth Third Bank of the Carolinas, which in 2008 acquired the former First Charter Cop., where Rownd had previously worked since 2000. His earlier career includes positions with SunTrust Bank in Orlando, First National Bancorp in Gainesville, Ga., and Barnett Banks in Atlanta and Miami.

W. Leonard Fant, chairman of the Northwest Georgia Bank board, said Rownd "is a leader who has turned around several other banks" and should help put the Ringgold, Ga.-based bank back in the black and on sounder footing.

"We're trying to return the bank to profitability and I think we're at the bottom of the barrel and we're ready to climb out," Fant said. "We're looking at all of our options and I think after a long six- to eight-month search we've got the right man to help lead us forward."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340