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Alden State Bank veteran takes his turn at the top

For decades, Alden State Bank was accustomed to having a Koelbl at the helm.

There was Christian Koelbl Jr., who started as president in 1979, followed by his son, Richard Koelbl, starting in 1991. The bank changed course at the start of 2018, when Steven J. Woodard became president and CEO, after Richard Koelbl retired.

Woodard's ties to the bank run deep, starting with a summer job as a teller during college. The Alden native was hired on a permanent basis after graduating in 1986 from Liberty University in Virginia, where he earned a bachelor's degree in finance.

It wasn't always a sure thing Woodard would join the bank. During one summer of his college years, Woodard worked for Chick-fil-A. The job was a combination of working at the company's Atlanta headquarters and traveling the country, doing marketing and promotional work. He expected to get hired by Chick-fil-A once he graduated from Liberty.

Instead, Woodard was offered a job at the bank, and he took it. Woodard stayed and built a career, including a stint as chief financial officer. He is only the seventh president in the history of the bank, which goes back to 1916.

Woodard, 55, talked about his first year in the top job and the bank's future:

Q: What was your first year like as president and CEO?

A: It's been a very positive experience. You're always looking forward to what lies ahead. It's been a very good, very exciting time.

Q: You were announced as the next president and CEO several months before the transition. Did that help?

A: We started talking about this at least two if not three years before it actually happened. There was definitely time to prepare.

Q: What were your impressions of the bank after being here a while?

A: I realize that with some people, they get out of high school, they want to leave and never come back. But I realized the opportunity to come back to my hometown isn't an opportunity everybody gets.

But by the same token, I didn't know where it would all lead. … I liked what I was doing, but I wasn't sure what other opportunities were out there. So I went back and got my MBA [in 1993 at the University at Buffalo], thinking, 'Well, let's see where it leads.'

What really happened, too, is the bank grew. If the bank hadn't grown, maybe the story would be different. ... When I started here, there was no CFO position. Well, the bank then needed a CFO and I was the obvious candidate for it. That opportunity presented itself. Literally the bank and I were able to grow together.

Q: Did you ever consider switching to another local bank as you were developing your career?

A: It really wasn't a case where I was looking to move, but it also wasn't likely [back then] that somebody was going to come and offer you a job at another community bank.

Today it's much more competitive, I guess. ... I've had a lot of offers over the years, but they've always been outside the area. So it would always involve me moving my family. I'm convinced the grass isn't always greener.

Q: What have you come to learn about the bank and its role in the community?

A: I think you learn that really early on. … I love it – talking to one of my neighbors, also a customer, she refers to it as 'my bank.' And when you hear your customers say 'my bank,' as opposed to 'your bank' because you work there, you really get it, that role in the community.

Q: Alden State Bank announced plans to open a third branch, in Clarence, in 2016. Where does that stand with regulatory approval?

A: Obviously we're still hopeful. [Federal regulators] had started an exam and said, 'We want to complete this exam.' They ask for other things, and it's just been an ongoing process. We continue to be hopeful that we'll have something soon.

Q: Do you see Alden State Bank staying independent?

A: We do, because, first, going back to that contract with the community. No. 2, despite all of the challenges, we have been able to continue with strong earnings. Those earnings go to capital, so we have a strong capital position.

So we've really put ourselves in a position of strength where we can remain independent, and we really feel like that continues to be a certain niche, for lack of a better word.

There are certain people who want that community bank experience. I tell our people all the time, for those that remember, I said it's like "Cheers." Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And that's the service that we really strive to give.

Q: Richard Koelbl is still involved with Alden State Bank, as the chairman. What advice does he give you?

A: I'd say it's more encouragement: take the ball and run with it, more or less. He's still very involved. Especially our board, on the lending side, the way we're structured, the board is involved in that.

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