Richard J. Green’s grandfather, Samuel A. Green, was a Hungarian immigrant who taught himself to read and write English at the Free Library of Philadelphia at night. To make a living, he sold shoes, insurance, and real estate. He also became involved with local commercial banks and it revealed to him a need for residential home loans that was not being met. And, with the formation of the FDIC, people were warming up to the idea of putting their money in banks again.
So during the heart of the Great Depression, in what was his great grandmother’s kitchen in South Philly in 1934, he established the First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Philadelphia – later to become Firstrust Bank. His son, Daniel, worked alongside his father for many years. Daniel succeeded his father as president and CEO in 1970, and in 1995 Daniel was succeeded as CEO by his own son, Richard.
For Richard Green, Drexel LeBow’s 2017 Business Leader of the Year, this role may have been partially inherited, but it was certainly earned through years of hard work: he earned several degrees including an undergraduate degree from Tufts, an MBA from Wharton, and a JD from Penn, and spent years learning the ropes of the family business before rising to the position of CEO.
In the case of Firstrust, the largest locally, privately and family owned bank in the region and one of the largest in the U.S., Green is certainly disproving the old third-generation adage, “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations,” which goes something like this: The first generation starts a business. The second generation grows it. And the third generation runs it into the ground.
In fact, Green was integral to transforming the bank from a savings and loan model, which he believed was not sustainable, and turning it into a full-service commercial bank owned by the Green family during the late 1980s.
A decade after becoming CEO, he then steered the bank through the Great Recession without major losses by avoiding some of the risky lending practices that other banks were seizing upon.
“You’re defined as much by what you choose not to do as much as what you choose to do,” he explains. “In the crisis, we had the opportunity to participate in a lot of things that didn’t seem right to us. We chose not to buy those tempting mortgage-backed securities that were rated AAA, but were filled with toxic mortgages. We try to do things that we understand. We said, ‘Let’s look inside and see what the loans are they’re putting into these things.’ When we evaluated those mortgages, it didn’t make any sense to us.”
“We made less during the Great Recession, but we never had to sell key assets or take on unwanted partners. In fact, we left the recession with more capital and greater reserves than before the Great Recession. We have never had a losing year in 83 years.”
Green says that being a family-owned business put him in a position to make sound decisions like those, because “we are not subject to quarterly earnings pressures, and thus we are able to make decisions that focus on the long term, instead of a constant focus on your current stock price.”
At Firstrust, Green says decision-making is local, knowledgeable, and tends to be more rapid because there are less layers of management. “Our customers benefit from our being privately and locally owned and managed, because it means you’re very close to the decision-makers, who have considerable local knowledge of our communities.”
Furthermore, he adds, “Being able to work here and know that you are not for sale every day translates into a more stable work environment, and that results in better service to our clients. He adds that his hand-picked management team and staff, the “Firstrust Family,” is “second-to-none.”
Under his leadership, Green has also fostered a sense of community at Firstrust through a community service component. One example includes City Year. Firstrust has sponsored a City Year team since the organization came to Philadelphia 20-plus years ago, he says, explaining that the family’s roots in South and West Philadelphia played a part in choosing to partner with this organization.
Green’s work is his life, and he seizes opportunities to make it enjoyable. His career is actually multi-faceted. He expanded his horizons beyond the family bank by applying his business acumen into his passions, or as he puts it, “turning my avocations into vocations.”
Several decades ago, he fell in love with Turks and Caicos. So, he figured, why not invest in it? He purchased a hotel there, the Grace Bay Club, which has been ranked a Top 5 Conde Nast resort in the Caribbean.
In 1994, he made the decision to become a minority partner in the Philadelphia Eagles, when Jeffrey Lurie, the primary owner, and former Drexel LeBow Business Leader of the Year, bought the team. By combining his passion for football with the business of professional football, it was another opportunity to turn an avocation into a vocation.
Warren Buffet loves his work so much that he says he “tap dances” to work each day. Green wouldn’t go quite that far, but says, “My professional life has been a source of great joy, pride and satisfaction to me. I hope to keep it going for as long as I am able.”