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Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals of WSFS retires

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Editor’s note: the author is a long-time friend of Marvin Schoenhals.

Marvin Schoenhals, the “hired gun” from Michigan who made an insolvent Wilmington Savings Fund Society (WSFS) Bank into world-class profit-maker, is hanging it up more than a quarter-century later.

Schoenhals, known to friends and colleagues as “Skip,” has stepped down as chair of the board of directors of WSFS Bank, handing off the reigns to his protégé and hand-picked successor Mark Turner, who has served as CEO for a decade.

WSFS Bank was the verge of being closed by federal regulators when Schoenhals was recruited to Wilmington in a last-ditch effort to save the company, which then was owned by the holding company Star States Corp.

Many of the bank’s dashboard metrics have since increased – some by more than 200 times.
Today it enjoys a market capitalization of $1.4 billion compared with $6 million in 1992. Net income rose from a loss of $85 million in the early 1990s to $64.1 million in 2016, or 10 times the bank’s market capitalization 25 years earlier.

Its share price, which was often under $1.50 in the 1990s, today tends to stay between $45 and $50, adjusted for the 3-1 split the bank ordered a couple of years ago.

Today, with acquisitions, it’s grown from 13 branches to 77 branches. Its ATMs have grown from 13 to over 450 ATMs, reflecting the changes in how people bank.

So how did Schoenhals accomplish this turnaround?

“Optimism, people, culture and my Christian faith,” Schoenhals said.

“Because I’m a natural optimist, I never entertained the possibility that the bank would fail. And yet we came perilously close to failing,” he said.

“The No. 1 lesson as I reflect back on it is “¦ Do the absolute best you can at all times, and then go home and get a good night’s sleep. Then come back and do it all over again tomorrow, but never give up.

“In 1990, WSFS was a highly troubled company that was on the verge of failure. Today WSFS is one of the highest-performing companies in the banking industry for the better part of a decade,” he noted. “In 1990, WSFS was the No. 6 bank in a five-bank market. Today, arguably we’re the best bank someone in our marketplace could choose to do business with.”

Think Gallup polling, and perhaps you think politics, but the Gallup polls that landed on Schoenhals’ desk regularly were one of the most important metrics of WSFS Bank’s performance.

“About 20 years ago, Mark and I looked at each other and realized, “˜It’s about people!’ If you talk to almost any service industry, if you talk about any service business, when you talk to the CEO, or the leader, you’ll hear that the people are their most important asset,”Schoenhals said.

“We’re going to live, eat and breathe that people are our most important asset. So we studied – with the help of the Gallup organization – what great people organizations do, how they work, how they behave. Culture is about people, and values, and behaviors.”

WSFS Bank year-in and year-out is among Delaware’s “best workplaces,” as honored by
The News Journal.

“It’s about matching people’s wiring to the requirements of the job, and then giving them first-class supervision,” Schoenhals added. “We ask every single associate every single year to rate the culture of the company, if it’s encouraging to them in their careers and their lives. And then we ask our customers to do the same thing.

“In both categories, we are in the 90th percentile in Gallup’s surveys and polling,” Schoenhals said.
Having said that, while many executives in Schoenhals’ position would look at the shift from survival to thriving as a legacy, Schoenhals does not. Instead he points to the devout Christian faith for which he is so well known among Delaware business and civic leaders.

“Faith shapes my whole life, as you well know,” said Schoenhals. “First and foremost, it shapes me with an understanding of how much I’ve been blessed by our creator, and that gives me a great sense of humility.

“As important as any job I’ve had, and more specifically as CEO of WSFS, while I wanted the company to succeed, while I have a focus on eternity, it was much more important to be focused on that eternity, much more than what people thought of me or WSFS and that gave me a
great sense of peace.

“People will tell you I’m a very competitive, very driven person to succeed, but that doesn’t define who I am,” he added. “What defines who I am is my relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Friends in business and the faith community all speak highly of Schoenhals.

“I’ve known Skip for 25 years,” said Bob Elder, marketing director for the Santora CPA group who came to Greenville in the 1990s to open Christiana Bank & Trust, ironically today part of WSFS Bank.

“He was one of the first to call me when I was starting Christiana Bank to offer help. I remember thinking that’s pretty nice. One competitor helping another. And as I got to know him I discovered that Skip is a very spiritual man. And that foundation pervades every aspect of his life.”

“No matter what he does, it is driven by adherence to the highest moral and ethical standard. And as I look at the remarkable success of WSFS Bank under his leadership I want to correct Leo Durocher’s famous quote to read “˜nice guys really do finish first’,” Elder said.

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