by Jamie Carter-Logan, Dustyn Bailey, Bryan Roche and Peter Anania
Farrell’s Clothing Store was a landmark on Augusta’s Water Street by 1986 when an 18-year-old Andrew Silsby walked in to buy his first suit. After purchasing it and putting it on, he walked down the street to Norstar Bank and applied for an open teller position. He was quickly hired, and just like that his community banking career was started.
Now, after a quick rise through the company’s ranks, he’s in his fourth year as the president of Kennebec Savings Bank. But to understand how he first gained an appreciation of the value of hard work and treating customers right, you have to go back to his childhood.
He was hired by his next door neighbor Henry Merton, the then executive of Central Maine Power, to mow his lawn. But as one could imagine, a ten-year-old Silsby was more interested in the pick-up baseball games his friends were playing. He would cut corners and leave the job unfinished. Merton, though, would call him back, or sometimes his mother, and would deny payment until the lawn was properly mowed.
Annoying to a 10 year old kid? Yes. But looking back across the years, Silsby continues to apply the lessons he learned from that first job — the value of paying attention to detail, to customer service and to seeing a job through to its successful completion.
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Silsby applied those lessons learned at his next job: bagging groceries and stocking shelves at the local Shop ’N Save. And by doing the work of ‘facing’ the shelves, he learned that presentation is everything when it comes to running a successful business.
With these jobs behind him as he entered the University of Maine, Silsby started to seriously consider his future. He was majoring in business, and knew he wanted to get a head start. That’s when he walked into Farrell’s, got the job at Norstar Bank — which became Fleet Bank — and started on the path that led him to where he is today.
In his first role, Silsby started as an entry level float teller. He’d go to bed at night not knowing where he might be assigned the next day, only learning at 6:30 a.m. which of 27 communities across central Maine he would need to be in that same morning.
“I’d go to Strong, Stratton, Boothbay Harbor wherever they needed me. This job helped me get to know a lot of people across the state.”
And it helped Silsby start moving up the ladder at a bank that was responsible for many banking careers in Maine. Many of Silsby’s peers in the industry are alumni of Fleet Bank and also of the 18-month banking management program that Silsby completed. After the course, he was placed in Belfast before settling in Dixfield.
“I had a great experience in Dixfield, and learned a lot,” Silsby says. “But I was young, single and it was not a happening place for someone my age.”
As he looked to make the move from Dixfield, Silsby’s brother put his house in Augusta up for sale. Silsby bought it, moved to the capital city, and in the process made a connection that altered the course of his career.
The realtor that he worked with to buy the house was friends with the senior lender at Kennebec Savings Bank, where a lending position had just opened up. At dinner that night, the senior lender asked the realtor if he had any recommendations for someone to fill the position. The realtor recommended Silsby, and after an interview, he was hired on as a lender at Kennebec Savings Bank.
Silsby climbed the ladder quickly, being promoted to senior lender at the bank, then taking over finance as the treasurer/CFO. He then got the chance to lead operations, becoming COO, and eventually was named as president in 2014.
But as much as Silsby enjoys his work at Kennebec Savings Bank, it is not always easy. He points to the financial crisis of 2008 as evidence of one of the most difficult years of his working life. Across the country, financial institutions were under a crunch, the housing market crashed and asset markets were not moving. Kennebec Savings Bank was in danger of finishing the year in the red for the first time in its 138-year history.
With a dedicated team of employees and a tireless effort on the part of all at the bank, Kennebec Savings Bank did make it through the worst of the crisis in the black.
“In many respects it’s almost a blur. We all did it, just leaned in and worked really hard.”
Silsby still keeps a memento of that time in his office — an empty sparkling cider bottle his team opened to celebrate that they were in the black. In that bottle he keeps snapshots of the portfolio in the red, and one just after it landed in the black.
For him, it’s a reminder of what Kennebec Savings Bank and a strong team can accomplish.
“Our organization really rows in the same direction,” says Silsby.
After the financial crisis, though, much healing was needed. Banking customers across the country had lost confidence in their financial institutions, and Silsby and his team knew that it was going to take some serious work to restore that trust.
“We’re here to stay, we’ve been around for 145 years, we’ve weathered a lot of storms – including the great depression – and we will weather it again,” says Silsby reflecting on the Bank’s post-crisis attitude.
Luckily for the bank, they were given an opportunity to prove their commitment to the community after an unexpected need popped up. There was a demand for a new branch when another local bank was closing in the Farmingdale/Gardiner area. Wasting no time, they assembled a team and opened a new branch a few miles down the road — in 53 days.
What Silsby and Kennebec Savings Bank found was that there was a real demand for community banks. They’d proven their stability, and saw an influx of customers.
With over 27,000 customers, it’s apparent that central Maine appreciates the history, service, and community-oriented mission of Kennebec Savings Bank. And Silsby is just as happy in his job as his customers are with the bank.
Silsby has been at Kennebec Savings Bank for 25 years now, and is still committed to the bank, its mission and the people of Central Maine. He’s especially proud to be at the head of a mutual organization, one whose charter was signed by Joshua Chamberlain and whose profits are not beholden to stockholders, but instead to the communities the bank serves.
That’s how Kennebec Savings Bank was able to give back over $700,000 to 350 organizations in 35 communities throughout Central Maine in 2017 alone.
“I’m having a ball. We have a great group of people, a great community. I feel like my job is to take this great organization and turn it over to the next generation in better condition than we received it.”
And that’s not just lip service from Silsby. In addition to his work at the bank, he’s fully invested in his community. He serves on the board of the Colonial Theater, a restoration project that is part of downtown Augusta’s revival, as well as on the board of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce and the Augusta Board of Trade. Silsby’s commitment to his work and his community haven not gone unnoticed, either – he has recently served as the Chairman of the Maine Bankers’ Association.
Silsby has risen to the top of his company, climbing through ranks, learning all he could about the banking industry. As a leader, he sees the value in teamwork and leads by example through his own involvement in the community. He is respected by his peers, and liked by his customers. He is committed to making a difference for the community he grew up in, and for the generations yet to be raised in and around Maine’s capital city.
That’s why Andrew Silsby is a Maine Icon.