By Steve Yablonski
Pathfinder Bank’s new interim CEO wants to build upon the legacy of his friend and mentor Tom Schneider
James Dowd is the new interim CEO of Pathfinder Bank. Earlier this spring, Thomas Schneider, the bank’s long-time president and CEO, resigned from the position.
“This wasn’t a planned transition for a long time,” Dowd said, adding that “some things just caused Tom to go to the board and choose to step back.” Schneider transitioned to director of capital markets and corporate strategy.
Dowd explained that he will follow in the footsteps of Schneider and is working with the managing team “developing our objectives.”
Dowd’s mother was a nurse. His father was in the electricians’ union. His brothers are both in that union. His sister is a nurse.
“I’m the only one to go out and do something different,” Dowd said.
In 1994, he joined the bank, known at the time as Oswego City Savings Bank, as a controller.
“In 1988, I was a SUNY Oswego accounting and economics degrees student. I went to, back then, experience-based education, saw there was an internship available at Oswego City Savings Bank in the internal audit department. So in 1988, I joined the ranks as an intern. The bank was very intelligent. I did my internship; basically they did six months training me to do the job — and after that said, ‘would you like to continue employment with us?’ So they could really use what they trained me,” he said.
He worked 1988 and 1989 in the internal audit department, where he first met Schneider.
“[Schneider] joined the bank in ’88 as controller — a young college student working in internal audit meets the young downstate gentleman moving up here in his first position as controller” and that’s when their friendship started.
“Tom’s been a very close friend for 34 years. We formed such a good friendship, it was knowledge based. Many times throughout my life and career I reached out to him for guidance,” Dowd added.
Straight out of college, instead of seeking employment at the Oswego-based bank, Dowd went to work for Coopers & Lybrand in its Syracuse office. He worked there from 1989 to 1994. While there, he attained the professional designation of CPA.
“When I left I was a manager in their audit services division,” he said. “And during that tenure there were a number of times I picked up the phone and called Tom just to say, ‘this is what I’m doing and this is how I’m handling it … I’ve actually been offered another position with a client so what are your thoughts on it?’”
“He hasn’t only been a boss; he’s been a father figure to me for 34 years. I’ve sought his guidance in buying a home, buying a car or investments. He’s such a wealth of knowledge on so many topics,” Dowd continued. “I spoke to him this weekend [end of April]. He’s been fantastic. I’m well aware that I need to leverage his industry knowledge. I understand my strengths and that’s important. But I’m more keenly aware of my weaknesses and Tom has such great strengths in so many categories and he’s been through so much.”
Sometimes, when asked a question Dowd said he now wants “to look over my shoulder and see what Tom has to say, because he’s the one normally answering these questions. But now they are mine to answer.”
“I am ‘single’ but I have a long relationship with — what’s the proper word to use these days, partner, significant other — Danielle Hayden. We’ve been together; it’s got to be 16 years now. Danielle has a daughter who’s 21. So when Danielle and I first got together her daughter was 4 or 5. It seems like it was yesterday that all these things happened. If it weren’t for mirrors in my house I’d tell you that I’m still a young individual,” Dowd quipped. “Danielle and I have been together for a long time. We have a great relationship — she’s been a tremendous supporter of me through this transition.”
“Didn’t you ever expect some day that you’d be president of Pathfinder Bank?” he recalls Hayden asking him.
“I said, ‘no it never crossed my mind.’ She said, ‘how could it not cross your mind?’” he said with a smile.
“He wasn’t going to retire,” Dowd explained. “He loved what he did. He loved the communities that he served and had it not been for these challenges, he would’ve retired — certainly not at 62 or 64 — maybe at 68. By the time he’s 68, I’m 62 and the board’s not going to look at the guy who’s 62 and may only be there a short time. They’re going to select appropriately a younger person. I was happy being in that supporting role.”
If Dowd had ended his business working life as the controller of a $1.3 billion public company, headquartered out of Oswego, he’d have considered himself “a tremendous success.”
”There was no aspiration of me. I never had a desire to be the number one guy. I never had any feeling that Tom wasn’t going to be that,” he explained. “I owe everything I have to Tom Schneider and Chris Gagas [in the summer of 1994, Gagas was president and CEO of Oswego City Savings Bank] and this institution. I was very, very happy with where I was. I didn’t envision [this appointment] and it was rapid because of Tom’s decision and Tom’s challenges. So it was like I didn’t have a year to prepare and sit by his side and understand the challenges that are there. It was a bit of tossed in the fire and lean on him when you need to.”
Going forward, he wants to make sure he uses the former CEO’s values and “what’s important to me; what I think is fair and right and just and make sure that I set the tone at the top and show people this is how I’m going to do it and this is how I’m going to lead the organization.
“I can’t try to be Tom because there is no way that I could fill his shoes. This community is a better community to live in because of Tom Schneider and Pathfinder Bank. In all of the communities that we serve I can’t imagine having the kind of positive impact that he has had. I’ll take his legacy and sprinkle in a little Jim and hopefully at some time, I’ll hand this great position off to the next person.”
Dowd said he’ll be 55 this year. “I’m not going to be around forever. Unlike Tom, I look forward to retiring at some time. I love work, but I’d also love to travel more and do more things. I don’t see myself retiring early; but I don’t see myself working into the 70s, like I think Tom probably would have,” he said.
Goal: To enhance Pathfinder’s performance
Dowd’s goal is to continue to enhance the performance of Pathfinder Bank.
“We’ve moved our performance up to a level we haven’t achieved before,” he said. “All of us want to become a high-performing bank. We’re looking and saying, how do we continue to enhance the performance of this institution so that we provide a return to shareholders and at the same time take care of our employees and their families and really enhance the communities that we serve?”
A couple years ago, Pathfinder Bank purchased a vacant mansion in Syracuse and it is transforming it into a branch office.
“As you could imagine, there are some supply chain challenges. I’d say we are 90% done,” Dowd said.
They put a remote teller station in the back, designed a canopy over it using a material that’s “a little unique.” It’s that one material that Dowd can’t get his hands on just yet.
“Seems like whatever material you’re waiting for, there are challenges in getting it in a timely fashion,” he said.
They hope to have the site open sometime during July.
“We’ve hired a branch manager. I’m sure she’s itching to sit down in her office and start doing a great job. She’s actually from that local area,” Dowd said. ϖ