Delaware County Leadership: Lewis Cyr, Chief Lending Officer, Penn Community Bank

Lewis Cyr
Image via Penn Community Bank.

Lewis Cyr, Chief Lending Officer at Penn Community Bank, spoke to DELCO Today about his role at the bank and his career path from growing up the youngest of six children in a small factory town to the C-Suite at the region’s largest mutual bank.

In our conversation, Cyr shared the two key lessons he learned from working construction jobs as a teenager and why he still loves the hard rock and heavy metal music he was listening to then. He also discussed what inspired him to go into banking, how talking to everyone from the janitor to the CEO helped him in his career, and why Penn Community Bank is well-positioned to meet the challenges in the banking industry today.

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born the youngest of six kids and grew up in a little town in Carbon County called Palmerton, which was a company town for a zinc manufacturing plant. Today, it’s most known for being home to Blue Mountain ski area.

As the baby in the family, were you spoiled?

None of us were spoiled in the sense of having money or objects, but I might have been spoiled in the sense that I could get away with more as my parents were a little worn down from my older brothers and sisters.

What did your parents do?

My father was one of the town dentists and my mother was a hygienist and the office manager.

What memories stay with you from growing up in Palmerton?

My father went to Princeton and then Penn Dental School, so he was very well-educated, but Palmerton was a blue-collar town. Everyone, including most of my friends’ parents, worked at the factory. What I most remember is that, regardless of your background, there was a lot of town pride. Everyone was hardworking, and you looked at everybody the same. I never felt any different from anybody else, because we all had the same experiences.

Despite his education and profession, my father was very low-key. If you met him on the street, you’d never know he went to Princeton and was the town dentist. We were hardworking, down-to-earth people, and we fit in very well.

Did you do any sports in high school?

I played football and baseball, and I was on the town’s swim team. I also skied a lot since there was a ski area in our town. I also was on the debate team and wrote for the school newspaper.

What were you best at of all those sports?

Probably swimming. I was a solidly average football and baseball player and a pretty good skier, but I was a very good swimmer. I was best at the individual medley. I didn’t dominate in any one stroke, but I could do all of them at a pretty high level.

What jobs did you have while you were growing up?

I pretty much always worked growing up. I worked summer construction jobs – roofing, insulation, framing, and the like. I also had paper routes and was a dog-sitter most of my middle and high school years as well.

What lessons did you take from those jobs that influence how you work today?

Two things: showing up and working hard. Showing up is half the battle – I saw people who just didn’t show up for work. And working hard got you ahead and got you recognized.

Also, I’m very comfortable dealing with all types, levels, backgrounds and personalities of people so I always fit in at my jobs. I found a way to relate to the most junior person and the most senior person in the company.

What kind of music were you listening to as a teenager?

Music is my biggest hobby. I go to concerts all the time. I’m always listening to music. To this day, I go to about 20 concerts a year and am an avid Spotify listener.

I like a bunch of different genres, but my favorites are hard rock and heavy metal – bands that were big in the very late ‘70s and early ‘80s. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve broadened my musical tastes – gone back to earlier 70s rock that I didn’t live through and ‘90s rock – my sweet spot is ’78 to ’84. Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Metallica, AC/DC, Judas Priest & Def Leppard are always in my musical rotation.

Did you have a favorite?

The short answer is that it’s Ozzy Osbourne. The long answer is that it’s his first two or three albums, not his entire career. When he went solo after Black Sabbath, he started a band called the Blizzard of Oz. The manager changed it to Ozzy Osbourne, solo, which pushed out some bandmates and ultimately changed the musical dynamic. While I liked his music after that, it was different. Those first two albums are in a league of their own.

After that, I rediscovered the ‘70s classic rock that I had not previously been exposed to, like Rush, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd. And I was still a young adult in the ‘90s when the grunge movement came, so I got very much into Pearl Jam and others like that, which is one of my favorite bands to this day. I also have a guilty pleasure – I love most anything 1980s pop/rock since I was an 80’s kid.

What was your favorite concert experience of all time?

That’s simple – Pink Floyd at Veterans Stadium in the spring of 1988, my freshman year in college at the University of Delaware. It was so much better than any other concert I’ve ever seen in my life. It was a surreal experience. Pearl Jam at the Wells Fargo Center about six or seven years ago was probably my second favorite concert.

How did you end up at the University of Delaware?

I applied to Villanova, Delaware, and some smaller schools. I wanted to blaze my own trail. I didn’t want to go to a small school, but I didn’t want to get lost in a place like Penn State. Half my relatives went to Princeton or Notre Dame, so I didn’t want to go there. Villanova ultimately was too close to where I lived. Delaware was a solid school. It was far away but not an overnight trip to come home. No one else I knew had gone there, so it seemed like a good fit.

Was it a good choice for you?

It was, but I have five older brothers and sisters who each had 10 or 15 friends, so that’s 60 or 70 people who all went to 60 or 70 different colleges. And at Christmas break when they all would come home, every one of them would say, “I’m going to the greatest school ever.” Thus, my perspective was influenced and I thought, “How much does it matter where you go?” I think it’s what you put into it.

What was the first time you recognized that you had leadership qualities and were bringing something different to the table?

You could probably trace it back to college or high school sports, but I really think it was when I started working. I was much more able to navigate the corporate world than a lot of my peers because I was a hardworking, social person and I would talk to anybody and everybody. You had to work hard and have the skills, but you also had to keep people motivated. I was always the one trying to motivate people and organize things.

At some point early in my career, it dawned on me, and I started getting feedback from people that people would look up to me without me being their boss.

Where do you think that comes from?

Clearly, genetics has something to do with it. My parents and my brothers and sisters are very social people, and I was always comfortable talking to people. And I was taught not to think you’re better or worse than anybody and to lead by example.

Looking back over the past 20 to 30 years of your career, who were the people who opened doors for you?

Well, clearly, people helped me – don’t get me wrong – but I think I’m responsible for my own success as well. Having said that, my sister’s husband, Mike Pascali who’s five or six years older than me, was working at PNB CoreStates in the mid-to-late ‘80s and early ‘90s when I was in college. Mike was a commercial banker, and he really liked what he did. He helped me get my foot in the door and spurred me to get into banking. Then, in my first couple of years, I would use him as a sounding board.

Also, early in my career, I started working with Scott Fainor, who was the former CEO of National Penn Bank. Scott was a highly energetic go-getter, so just being around him, I was able to learn a lot which was tremendous. He greatly influenced me when I was working with him at First Fidelity Bank, which became First Union, which became Wachovia. He was instrumental in helping me along in my career. He then left to become the CEO at KNBT. I stayed at Wachovia for a while and then went to Harleysville National Bank as the chief lending officer.

How did you end up at Penn Community Bank?

I was at Harleysville National Bank for four or five years, and we got sold to First Niagara Bank. I decided that wasn’t what I signed up for, and Scott Fainor recruited me back to National Penn Bank in 2011. Things were going great at National Penn for about five years. I ran their suburban Philly region, their Berks County region and their wealth management group for a while. I was Scott’s utility player – wherever he needed someone, he would send me.

Then National Penn sold to BB&T. BB&T was a good experience, but it wasn’t National Penn anymore.  I stayed there for several years, but I was passively looking for a different role and wanted to get back into a community bank. I got a call from Penn Community Bank to be the chief lending officer, and it was almost a no-brainer. When a job that almost exactly lines up with what you’re looking for comes up, you take it.

My first day at work, interestingly, was March 16, 2020. My first two weeks were virtual – no one was in the office as the pandemic had just started. It was an interesting time to start a new job but ultimately worked out very well.

And here we are, a quarter into 2023, where is the world of banking for you today?

Banking is tough – it’s always been tough. But there’s a need and a value proposition for banking, as well as for a bank like Penn Community. We just must make sure we are positioning ourselves as the stable bank that we are so we can take advantage and continue to grow in an environment that’s been through a lot of challenges in the past two months. But there’s a place for banks, especially for banks like our own.

How do you want Penn Community Bank to be seen by your clients and the community?

I have the utmost respect for all our competitors, and every bank has its pros and cons. But I like us first to be positioned as a true community bank. We’re very concerned about the communities that we live in and serve. How we distinguish ourselves from other community banks is our structure – we’re a mutual, meaning we’re not publicly traded or beholden to shareholders. This unique set up allows us to ensure our employees and our customers that we’re here for the long haul. We’re not subject to some of the challenges that some of our public company brethren might be facing. We’re a good community bank, but we’re have a different level of stability than most community banks.

But it’s not enough to say we’re a community bank and we’re stable. We also have the right product set and have smart, hardworking bankers. We’re working to bring the community bank feel to the market but also have the best bankers and the right tools to help our customers grow.

What’s your primary focus right now, in the second quarter?

We always want to have organic growth, so acquiring new commercial customers is a priority. We have a May calling campaign right now with all the commercial bankers – we’re calling it May Madness. We’re always out calling, but we’re having a little more focus and energy around it right now. As we get out of the winter doldrums and before everyone goes on summer vacation, this is a good time to hit the market and get the word out – let people know that we’re here and ready to do business.

Growing commercial clients and deposits are always important, but they’re even more important this year and in this environment with the net interest margin compression and rising interest rates. Not only do we want to get new commercial clients and do their financing and cash management needs, but we want to make sure we’re getting the full relationship, so there’s a big focus on deposits.

What do you do with all your free time, Lewis?

Well, there’s not much of it. Like I said, I listen to a lot of music and go to concerts. I exercise a lot, I am an avid reader of military history, I try to golf some, and make sure I get out locally to socialize and network as much as possible.

I also spend a lot of time with my family. My wife Traci and I have four kids in their 20s, plus we both have large local extended families. My oldest, Sydney, is a special education teacher and is newly married. My second oldest, Jenna, is an accountant living in Philadelphia. My third child, Luke, is severely autistic and still lives at home. He’s never spoken a word and lacks some general awareness of things, but he’s happy and healthy beyond that. My youngest, Jack, is graduating from college in December. He wants to get into banking which is great, so I’m trying to help him out.

What’s something significant that you’ve changed your mind about over the past five to 10 years?

This is more of a general thing, but I used to be stubborn and set in my ways about many things. I’ve learned that it’s better to be more open-minded and flexible rather than always digging your heels in. For sure, one should have core principles and abide by them, but beyond that be open-minded and listen.  I found over the years that serves you well.

What keeps you hopeful and optimistic?

I just tend to have a positive attitude – my parents said I was good natured pretty much from day one. I think if you stay positive about things, that’s going to shape your view on a lot of other things – no sense in being a downer as I have a belief most people are good at heart.

And honestly, my autistic son helps a lot. I always tell my other three kids that he’s the happiest person I know. Just seeing how happy and carefree he is brightens my day. It puts everything in perspective.

Finally, Lewis, what’s the best advice you ever received?

Well, one, like I mentioned, is just showing up. That’s half the battle.

Number two is talking to anybody and everybody, irrespective of their level, their background, their beliefs, or anything.  Just try to be open-minded to everyone and all situations.

Also, performance matters so I try to add value and challenge people in my professional interactions.  Instead of just being an order-taker and trying to provide good service we should also aim to give helpful insights and to add value. That stands out.

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