Although Kenneth L. Weinstein’s position as Newtown Savings Bank president and CEO has only been effective since Jan. 1, he’s hardly been spending time learning the ropes. A career community banker with experience in almost all facets of banking who joined NSB as a vice president in 2011, Weinstein’s resume includes 25 years in various capacities at People’s United as well as three-plus years as the principal at Weinstein Advisory Services, where his clients included banks, bank trade associations, educational institutions, and advertising agencies.
As for NSB itself, it’s a mutual community bank headquartered in Newtown, with more than $1.2 billion in assets. The bank has 14 branches in Newtown, Bethel, Brookfield, Danbury, Monroe, Oxford, Shelton, Southbury, Trumbull and Woodbury, and the New Haven Regional Lending Center in Hamden.
An Easton resident, Weinstein spoke with the Business Journal at NSB’s 39 Main St. headquarters in Newtown about taking the reins at the bank, how his entrepreneurial grandfather inspired the rest of the family, and why he never misses an episode of “This Is Us.”
What drew you to banking in the first place?
“Like a lot of people with careers in banking, it was by accident. I was looking for an internship while I was in college (at Dartmouth). My family was living in Trumbull at the time, but my father said, ‘There are a bunch of banks in Bridgeport, why don’t you see if one of them will hire you?’
“I was looking for a teller job, but one of the executives at People’s (renamed People’s United in 2007) had a student intern who hadn’t finished a project — namely whether they should get involved with ATMs. So they gave me that project and in some way I played a part in their putting in ATMs.
“After I graduated from Dartmouth (in 1983 with a B.A. in History) I decided to go for my MBA (in general management, which he earned from the Harvard Business School in 1987). I’d be lying if I said there was much of plan at that point. But I liked the customer aspect of banking as well as the technology side — it drew me in and I saw the value of those opportunities early in my career.”
It sounds pretty straightforward.
“Again, like most things in life, it kind of happened by accident. I started out studying medieval English history. People ask how I met my wife and the answer is we were seated at different tables at a wedding.
“With banking, the real test came shortly after I got out of business school. I had a job offer from Major League Baseball — not as a player, but in (then-MLB Commissioner) Peter Ueberroth’s office. I’ve always been a big baseball guy, but banking finally won out.”
You took over as Newtown’s CEO on the first of the year. How’s it going so far?
“It’s gone well. I told my predecessor (John F. Trentacosta, now chairman of the bank’s board of directors) that I never had more respect for him than I do now after a few months in this chair. John left the bank in great shape and the transition had been planned out well in advance by the board, so I felt as well-prepared to take over as I could be.”
Given that long transition process and your career in banking, have there been any surprises?
“Scheduling. There are so many different constituencies you want and need to deal with, and it can be a challenge to return important phone calls promptly. I tend to schedule myself pretty tightly, so it can be a matter of threading the needle sometimes.
“When you’re a community bank you want to make every effort to engage with the community. I can have two breakfast meetings every morning, a couple of other things every afternoon. You try to do everything you can — that’s a big part of why we’re here.
“With the community bank model, especially with mutual savings banks, it’s such a win/win/win, for the bank and its employees, its customers, and the community. I feel very fortunate to have more or less fallen into this industry.
What’s the biggest challenge you face today?
“I don’t want to sound like every other banker complaining about regulation, but there is an awful lot of regulation, not all of which is value-added. The other thing is that, even in a good economy — and Connecticut’s economy is still struggling but showing signs of growth — you have to be prepared for going through different economic cycles and keeping your finances strong.
Speaking of Connecticut’s economy, I don’t expect you to endorse one of our many gubernatorial candidates, but what do you think he or she, when elected, needs to do?
“They need to do some nontraditional thinking, and to act as partners who can work together (with businesses). We need someone who’s good with facts and figures as well as someone who can put the good of the state ahead of their political ambitions. Yes, I’m a dreamer!”
Was there a particular business mentor who influenced your career?
“I feel that I’ve had one in every stage of my career. Why is that? Because I’ve always been very open to feedback and if you’re open to that, people will give you advice that you can use. There were one or two people at the beginning of my career, a couple in the middle, and certainly some now. I’ve learned something from so many people.”
Any personal mentors?
“All of the above. My parents weren’t in banking — my mother was chair of the Trumbull Town Council and my dad was with the Department of Health — and I’d listen to what issues they were facing every week, which made an impression on me.
“My grandfather — my father’s father — was an entrepreneur who dispensed a lot of wisdom over the years. He had the classic story of coming here from Russia when he was three, who worked hard at a lot of different businesses to put his kids through American college and raised two sons who became doctors. His work ethic was something we all learned from.”
Have there been any business books that were particularly influential on you?
“I’m not a huge reader of business books, but a couple stood out. Mostly I read a lot of business press. A lot of the time business books have a couple of good ideas packed in a couple hundred pages, and I’m not necessarily a fan of that. But Steven Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ was an important one, and (Peter Lencioni’s) ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’ was one of the most impactful.”
What do you like to read that’s not business-oriented?
“History, biographies about interesting people over the years. We tend to forget over time how many moments in history came down to the decisions of an individual or a small group of people. Without them, the outcomes would have been very different.”
Anything that’s grabbing your attention at the moment?
“I’m enjoying ‘The Killer Angels,’ which is a novel about the Civil War by Michael Shaara. And I read a biography of James K. Polk not too long ago. He was a very underrated president who’s probably my second favorite — it’s hard to go against Lincoln — but he ran and said he would not run for a second term from the start. He enacted the platform that he ran on and then went home. He didn’t care about how he was positioning himself politically, he just did what he thought was best for the country.”
Do you like physical books, or do you read on something like a Kindle?
“Physical books. I read magazines on my iPad.”
Besides reading, what do you like to do in your spare time?
“To spend as much time as possible with friends and family. We can be doing anything, but taking the time to catch up with people is something that’s important to me.
“And I’m a sports fan, particularly baseball. I’m one of those people who’s been in a rotisserie league for years. It’s fun to keep track of whether someone pitching for the Seattle Mariners did well yesterday.”
Any must-see TV?
“My wife Rita and I are really into ‘This Is Us.’ That’s what filled the void after ‘24’ went off the air. It’s so well done, the stories are so great, and the acting is just terrific. I have a friend who sells advertising at NBC and he told me about it — we were hooked within the first five or 10 minutes.”
What advice would you give to college graduates if you were giving a commencement address?
“Find something you have a passion for. If you don’t like what you’re doing, consider making a change. You don’t want to end up spending an awful lot of time doing something you don’t like.”