Danvers Bancorp CEO Kevin Bottomley

Tim McLaughlin of the Boston Business Journal writes that about eight months before Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall of 2008, Danvers Bancorp Inc. reeled in about $175 million in capital from its conversion to a publicly traded bank from a mutual.

The capital windfall’s timing could not have been better. The big banks that dominate commercial lending in Boston — Bank of America Corp., Sovereign Bank and Citizens Bank — soon became distracted by massive credit losses amid an economic recession that whipsawed their capital and confidence.

Danversbank, meanwhile, pounced.

The bank cranked up commercial lending under the direction of Chief Executive Kevin Bottomley. He later outmaneuvered rivals, including a well-heeled private equity fund, to land Beverly National Corp., parent company of a neighboring community bank.

While big banks retrenched, the assets at Bottomley’s bank in 2009 surged 45 percent to $2.5 billion from loan growth and the Beverly acquisition. When Bottomley became the top executive of Danvers Savings, the precursor to Danversbank, in the mid-1990s, assets were about one-tenth today’s size.

But Danversbank isn’t done expanding.

“Our ambition is to grow the bank,” Bottomley said during a recent interview.

The son of an insurance agency executive, Bottomley, 57, grew up in the Auburndale section of Newton. He went to Harvard College and graduated with a history degree in 1974.

“I was unemployable when I graduated,” he said.

After Harvard, he went to the University of Virginia to get an MBA. He arrived not knowing a debit from a credit, but he survived and landed in Bankers Trust’s training program in New York.

His first assignment was on the Japan desk. He took loans through committee in New York and drummed up business calling on Japanese manufacturers based in the United States. Larry Fish, who later became Citizens Bank chairman, was branch manager in Tokyo.

After about five years of traveling, Bottomley was eager to get back to Boston. His wife’s family is from Danvers.

BankBoston, which had strong connections in Latin America, hired Bottomley for his Asia Pacific experience. Bottomley later went to London at the strong suggestion of Chad Gifford, who sold BankBoston to archnemesis Fleet Financial in 1999.

London turned out to be a great gig for Bottomley. Margaret Thatcher was prime minister and the dollar was strong. Bottomley soaked up the local sports scene, attending Chelsea football matches. He still remembers how standing-room crowds shook the stadium like an earthquake.

In 1989, Bottomley left BankBoston to become the top lender at Boston Private Bank and Trust, where he worked for several years.

“He did a great job,” said Boston Private Financial Holdings Inc. CEO Tim Vaill, who was Bottomley’s boss before he left for Danvers Savings.

Bottomley got his chance to run the show when the board at Danvers Savings wanted someone to boost commercial lending aggressively. The bank’s CEO at the time, James Zafris, laid the foundation by making the bank a top Small Business Administration lender.

“We diversified the earnings base by creating a commercial bank within a traditional savings bank,” Zafris said during a recent telephone interview.

Bottomley said the bank’s board was ready to grow even more when he arrived.

“A lot of mutual banks want to stay in their hometown and stay in the contiguous communities,” Bottomley said. “I didn’t have to do a lot of pushing and prodding to get them to expand.”

Boston Business Journal