When Joan Enticknap wants to remember life as a mergers-and-acquisitions specialist, she peers down at her 18-karat-gold Rolex. It was a corporate...

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When Joan Enticknap wants to remember life as a mergers-and-acquisitions specialist, she peers down at her 18-karat-gold Rolex.

It was a corporate thank-you for her work on Seafirst’s acquisition of Security Pacific, one of several bank mergers she helped manage for Seafirst’s parent, Bank of America, in the early 1990s.

The No. 2 officer at HomeStreet Bank, Enticknap does not miss the long hours and adrenaline highs that come with mergers and acquisitions.

“I’m over it,” she said, tapping her watch. “I earned this the hard way.”

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She now works for a bank whose owners steer clear of acquisitions.

Although it’s the third-largest bank based in Seattle, HomeStreet is family- and employee-owned, and prefers the luxury of steady growth to the frenzied expectations that often come with having public shareholders.

HomeStreet Chief Executive Bruce Williams worries more about passing a healthy bank along to the next generation than about which banks he can afford to acquire.


HomeStreet Bank




Seattle, WA



Chairman and CEO:
Bruce Williams, third generation of his family to run the bank


Assets:
$1.7 billion, making it Seattle’s third-largest bank


Founded:
1921


Early investments and loans:
Northgate Shopping Center, University Village, Sand Point Country Club


Retail Branches:
19 in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii


Employees:
540


Lending specialties:
Real estate; small and mid-sized businesses

Source: HomeStreet


“The fastest way to grow is to buy other institutions,” acknowledged Williams, who is the third generation of his family to run HomeStreet.

“But when you buy a company, you get customers and employees who did not choose to have you as their bank or as their employer,” Williams said.

That attitude stands out in an industry where acquisitions have brought massive consolidation in the past couple decades, leading most bank chiefs ready at any moment to buy or be bought.

The Puget Sound area has lost many of its local banks to buyouts, among the latest last fall’s acquisition of Everett-based EverTrust Financial by Cleveland-based KeyCorp.

Sometimes the deals lead to widespread job cuts. Bank of America said last year it would eliminate 12,500 jobs to help digest its buyout of FleetBoston Financial.

Acquisitions create unrest for employees and customers, something Enticknap knows well.

As part of her acquisitions job at Bank of America, she worked on programs to keep customers from leaving after her bank gobbled up other institutions.

“The best strategy was to change as little as possible,” said Enticknap, who joined HomeStreet in 2001 as its president and chief operating officer.

“They don’t want a new account number, a new credit card or to go to a new branch because their branch closed.”

The upshot is that merger-happy banks lose customers. In Seattle, some of them end up at HomeStreet.

HomeStreet officials know their brand of banking is not for everyone. People wanting a branch on every corner might be disappointed by its network of 19 retail branches in Washington, Oregon and Hawaii.

The bank, which has made two small acquisitions — one in the 1970s and the other in the 1990s — to enter the Hawaii market, appeals most to executives of small- and mid-sized businesses who are dissatisfied with service at larger banks, which often are not locally based and have grown through a string of acquisitions.

About a year ago, Tim Beaver switched to HomeStreet after almost 25 years with what is now Bank of America.

He was tired of teaching a series of new loan officers about Global Diving & Salvage, the Seattle marine construction and services firm where he is president.

At one point, “they gave us a young gentleman who was learning, and we scared him to death,” Beaver said.

“Banks that are in flux like that don’t know you,” he said. “To keep their job, they’ve got to stay inside their lines.”

Beaver still does his personal banking at Bank of America, though, “because they have a branch on every corner.”

HomeStreet’s stockholders understand that forgoing acquisitions means slower growth, said Gerhardt Morrison, a HomeStreet director and retired attorney who once specialized in mergers and acquisitions.

“We’d much rather do it carefully and slowly and for the long term,” Morrison said.

Indeed, HomeStreet has limped along at times.

Founded in the early 1920s as Continental Mortgage and Loan, it became an early investor or lender in such Seattle landmarks as Sand Point Country Club, Northgate Shopping Center and University Village.

Just as its business started to boom in the late 1920s, the stock market crash and subsequent dip in the real-estate market nearly capsized the young company, then headed by Bruce Williams’ grandfather.

The mortgage company suffered again in the early 1970s along with Seattle real estate.

HomeStreet — which changed its name from Continental Savings Bank in 2000 — has fared well in recent years.

But with a portfolio heavy in the cyclical real-estate business, “our profits do not go in a straight line,” said Williams.

Earnings have zigzagged from $11.7 million in 1998 to $5.5 million in 2000, up to $22.2 million in 2003, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

During hard times, shareholders — mostly the Williams family and the bank’s employees and directors — do not complain the way Wall Street would.

Employees, who own about 20 percent of the bank, are more interested in steady employment than rapid growth, said eight-year employee Dianne Wasson.

Wasson, who leads HomeStreet’s employer-assisted housing effort, said the dearth of merger activity helps recruit employees, who are particularly worried that the bank could be sold.

“Sometimes they’re a bit skeptical” when they hear HomeStreet is not interested in mergers, said Wasson, who went through acquisitions at two other banks before landing at HomeStreet.

“I’ve been in the position of not knowing from one minute to the next whether I’m going to have a job,” she said.

“It makes it difficult to keep your eye on the ball and serve the customer well.”

At HomeStreet, Wasson said, “they have a different philosophy, and it’s really quite refreshing.”

Williams and other officials count on that attitude.

They said the bank will remain independent, though with assets of $1.7 billion it is a perfect-sized acquisition target in an industry that’s filled with small community banks on one end and megabanks at the other.

The bank intends to roughly double its assets and profits over the next five years, but not at any cost — and certainly not through acquisitions.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com