2018 CFO Award Honorees: George Coffman

Baltimore Business Journal

Name:
George Coffman

Education:
Bachelor's in finance, University of Maryland

Age:
55

Title :
CFO, chief investment officer, treasurer and executive vice president

Company:
Howard Bank

As its long-time CEO, Mary Ann Scully's name is almost synonymous with Howard Bank. But there haven't been many decisions that were made without George Coffman's input.

Coffman helped start Howard Bank in 2003. In his role as CFO, Coffman has played a major role in Howard growing to become the biggest bank headquartered in Baltimore. Over the last year, a big portion of his job included overseeing Howard's $163.4 million acquisition of First Mariner Bank. As a result of that deal, the bank has $1.5 billion in deposits and ranks as the seventh-largest bank in Greater Baltimore.

"Some days it feels like it happened overnight and others it seems like it took forever to get the bank to where it is today," Coffman said.

Coffman has worked at multiple community banks in Maryland including Mercantile Bank, Farmers & Mechanics Bank, Sequoia Bank and Citizens Bank of Maryland.

He got into banking almost by accident. Early on in college, Coffman took a career aptitude test. The results told him he should pursue a career in accounting and finance, so he decided to do it.

"Basically I entered some information in the computer and it told me what the rest of my life was going to be," Coffman said.

While he was in college, Coffman's brother-in-law helped him get a job at Citizens Bank. His first role was collecting and repossessing cars. After graduating college, he transferred into the accounting department.

You have tended to work at community banks and not the big banks. Why?

Being able to have an impact. Mercantile was probably the largest bank I was at. The larger the bank, you're less impactful and not as involved in the decision making. If you're going to do all the work you might as well be able to have some say in the direction.

Mary Ann Scully has the name recognition, but you also played a big role in getting the First Mariner deal done. How challenging is it to close an acquisition like that?

Anything big or new outside of the ordinary day-to-day business is a separate challenge. None of the M&A I have done is the same. Every one of them is different. You have to be able to adapt and react. At the end of the day what you end up doing is taking two companies and putting them together, but what you're really dealing with is the people behind the companies. It's about building from the ground up. with trust and respect. So they're all different. I don't know that this one was more difficult or more challenging. It was certainly larger. But at the end of the day it's all about alignment and making sure that both groups are aligned about what the resulting combination is going to look like.

How is your role different when the bank is operating on a normal day-to-day basis versus when you are in the midst of a major transaction?

It's probably more about the balance than the composition. When you're not heavy into the M&A and doing evaluations it's more about what I call the tactical side and the daily nuts and bolts side. When you're doing the M&A, it becomes much more of a strategic role. My responsibilities have probably transitioned. It may have been 25 percent strategic and 75 percent tactical. In today's world now it's 75 percent strategic and 25 percent tactical. The larger you get, the more complicated or diverse the bank becomes. The bank gets more of a strategic focus.

-Holden Wilen, Baltimore Business Journal

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