WorkinCT: John Ciulla to become third CEO in Webster Bank’s history

WATERBURY -- Jim Smith has been leading Webster Bank for 30 years since he took over the company from his father and bank founder, Harold Webster Smith.  Therefore, passing the reigns the company to John Ciulla was no accident.  The two spent years going over the transition to make sure it was a smooth one for the leadership team and the company.

“It was really important we found an internal candidate who would be a reliable steward of the values laid down initially by my dad, but who would also meet other stringent criteria with regard to skills and experience, strategic capabilities, high performance, leadership qualities, and John is that person,” said Smith, the outgoing Webster Bank CEO.

In its 82 year history, the bank has only had two CEO’s: Harold Webster Smith and Jim Smith, father and son.  On January first, Ciulla will be the first non-family member to run the company.  He doesn’t think that adds pressure.

“When you think about the legacy that Jim and his dad have established at Webster Bank in terms of our commitment to the state, our commitment to customers, the values-based culture that’s been created here over 82 years, I feel like it’s a real competitive advantage, so I look at is as actually eliminating some of the pressure of becoming CEO,” said Ciulla, President and incoming CEO of Webster Bank.

Instead, Ciulla is hitting the ground running.  He’s been with Webster Bank for 14 years and has already held a number of positions.  He knows the ins and outs of the company.

“I think it was important to know that while this is a transition in leadership, there’s really not a pivot in strategy or a pivot in the way we view our responsibility to our community or our customers, so all of our stakeholders, whether its shareholders, our employees, and our customers who are most important to us, will feel that same great level of service,” said Ciulla.

Coming off a record financial year, he says Webster Bank is in a good position.  However, he says there’s still room to grow, especially in Connecticut, a state that has been plagued with budget issues.  Ciulla is already the Chair of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and says he thinks Webster Bank has a responsibility to Connecticut as a corporate citizen.

“Jim and I and other executives in the organization have spent a lot of time being engaged in the political dialogue, in the political debate, in the policy debate in Connecticut because of all the resources: well trained workforce, great resources, global corporations headquartered here, that it’s a great state, and we have the ability through making some real changes in policy to reach our economic potential,” said Ciulla.

So in turn, Webster Bank can keep providing services to its local customers, something it’s been doing for decades.

“People still look to their banks as a trusted place for advice, a place where they can keep their money safe, they think about investing, think about investing for college savings, thinking about getting mortgage financing for their new home, and I think Webster Bank in particular has had this long standing commitment to community, to try and help people achieve their financial goals over time,” said Ciulla.