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Diversity-conscious bank’s new lead director is a first for board

Deborah Jackson will be the first woman in the lead director position in Eastern Bank’s 200-year history.Chris Morris for The Boston Globe

Given Eastern Bank’s leadership position in diversifying the ranks of Boston’s corporate elite, it should come as no surprise that its new lead director is a black woman.

Deborah Jackson takes the reins this month as the Boston-based bank’s first woman in the lead director position in the institution’s 200-year history. Jackson’s role will include running portions of board meetings when CEO and chairman Bob Rivers isn’t present and acting as a liaison for Rivers to other board members. Meanwhile, she’ll continue to be busy with her day job as president of Cambridge College.

Jackson succeeds Wendell Knox, who had been lead director since 2009. (Knox will retire from the board at the end of 2018.)


Jackson and Knox were both on the search committee that hired Rivers in 2006 and brought him back to the Boston area, where he grew up, from Nebraska.

Jackson, Rivers says, has been a tremendous adviser over the years.

“When a lot of us are spending time deliberating the trees, she’s often the one that gets us to pick our heads up to consider the forest,” Rivers says.

Eastern, under Rivers’ direction, recently decided to spend $10 million from its foundation over three years to improve diversity within the city’s business community. Eastern is divvying up the money in three ways: supporting a program with the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce to help connect minority-owned businesses with big employers; pairing minority entrepreneurs with strategic advisers; and establishing a new fund to make equity investments or loans for these types of firms.

Jackson was recruited to the board nearly two decades ago by then-CEO Stan Lukowski as Eastern was moving beyond its North Shore base and expanding its Boston presence. Both CEOs recognized the importance of having a diverse set of voices on the board.


“It’s been a joy to be at a bank that never loses sight of its fiduciary obligations,” Jackson says, “and at the same time never compromises on the core values of justice and opportunity.”


Firm finds a sweet spot

Chris Weld says his firm, Todd & Weld, is finally reaching a sweet spot: large enough to compete with the big law firms’ litigation departments, but small enough to represent clients at a relatively affordable price.

One big reason: Four experienced trial attorneys formerly with Boston boutique firm Collora have joined Todd & Weld as partners, following Collora’s recent merger with Hogan Lovells, a giant global firm.

Weld, the founding partner at Todd & Weld, says the four lawyers approached his firm as a group in mid-2017 as Collora was quietly preparing for its merger, before the deal was publicly announced.

“The more we looked at the fit and talked with them . . . we saw it as a very unique opportunity,” Weld says.

Nearly 45 lawyers now work at Todd & Weld, all of them focused on various aspects of litigation.

The group includes 16 partners plus the four newcomers from Collora: Paul Cirel, Ingrid Martin, Danny Cloherty, and Vicky Steinberg.

Weld says his firm is now the same size or bigger than the litigation departments at many of the big firms in town, but it can afford to be less expensive without the overhead of a full-size firm.

Focusing just on litigation also helps his firm avoid potential client conflicts.

“The hole [Todd & Weld is filling] is that client that is looking for superior talent and proven trial skills but is not a $1,000-an-hour client, maybe a $500- or $600-an-hour client [instead],” Weld says.


“There’s not a lot of that available right now. Franky, the disappearance of Collora has made that hole even bigger.”


Betting on bank branches

Dick Gavegnano is betting that bank branches won’t go out of style.

Executives at many big banks are paring back their brick-and-mortar networks. But not Gavegnano, the CEO of East Boston Savings Bank. His bank just unveiled plans for 2018 that include building six branches, a significant expansion of its 33 retail locations.

The banks that do expand around here usually do so through mergers and acquisitions. Think Berkshire Bank or Rockland Trust.

But Gavegnano says his 2018 goal involves all-new locations in West Peabody, Lynnfield, Cleveland Circle, Brigham Circle, Davis Square, and Watertown. Opening brand-new branches can be risky. You have to build your business from the ground up, instead of acquiring a ready-made customer base.

Gavegnano says the new federal corporate tax cut makes it easier to increase his $5 billion bank’s capital spending (alongside increases in employee pay and bonuses). But the truth is, he’s been expanding by opening new branches for a while. He leads one of the state’s fastestgrowing banks. Only one small acquisition, the recent purchase of two Meetinghouse Bank branches, contributed to its rise in the past five years.

It’s as if mobile banking is still just a Silicon Valley dream.


Gavegnano has heard the naysayers. And yes, the branches are smaller these days, roughly half the size of the ones he opened a decade ago.

But Gavegnano says people still value face-to-face contact, particularly for financial transactions. That’s why he focuses on finding places that are underserved by community banks to open more locations.

So far, at least, Gavegnano’s contrarian strategy is paying off.


Dimock chair to step down

Fletcher “Flash” Wiley is stepping down as chairman of the Dimock Community Foundation board after seven years and will assume the title of chair emeritus.

He will be replaced by Bob Rivers, CEO of Eastern Bank. The torch will be passed at a celebration on Jan.18 at the Parkman House in Boston.

Affiliated with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the Dimock Center focuses on underserved residents of several Boston communities, including Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Jamaica Plain.

As chairman, Wiley oversaw the Building the Road to Recovery campaign, which raised $16.4 million toward the creation of the Dr. Lucy Sewall Center for Acute Treatment Services.

The center will provide help for those struggling with substance abuse and is one of only three inpatient detox facilities in Boston. The new center is expected to increase in-patient care by 1,000 patients, bringing the total served annually to 4,000, according to the Dimock Center’s website.

“Flash Wiley is known in the Boston community for advocating for the black and brown community. He has an incredible legacy of bringing opportunities to businesses run by people of color, as well as women of color in leadership positions. That has worked to enrich Boston as a city,” Dr. Myechia Minter-Jordan, president and CEO of the Dimock Center, said in a statement.


Wiley is a founding member of the Black Alumni associations of both Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School and served as president and chairman of the Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association.

He also served for two years as chairman of the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.

The Dimock board will also gain two new vice chairs:

Arlene Fortunato, vice president of advancement at the Greater Boston Food Bank, and Juan Lopera, vice president of business diversity at Tufts Health Plan.


Can’t keep a secret? Tell us. E-mail Bold Types at boldtypes@globe.com.