No question about it, Guilford Savings Bank (GSB) President and CEO Tim Geelan makes a perfect “spokes-chef” for non-profit Women & Family Life Center (WFLC)’s most important annual fundraiser, Men Who Cook. The annual event, now in its 22nd year, returns Sunday, Oct. 16 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. to the intimate and elegant Guilford Yacht Club.
Tim joined GSB in 1994 as an experienced financial professional. Beginning as assistant vice president, he quickly scaled the executive ladder and was named president and chief executive officer in February 2014.
Tim continues to foster GSB’s long-standing policy of encouraging everyone at GSB, from tellers to executives, to embrace community service in the towns served by the bank, including Branford. One of the programs and causes (among many) Tim volunteers to assist is WFLC, another Guilford-based organization dedicated to serving many area towns, including Branford.
The mission of WFLC is to empower women and their families with programs and services that will help strengthen those in crisis, help find positivity in life transitions, and give access to a network of support, education, and community.
For the past six years, Tim has been bringing his services to the table for WFLC as one of dozens of local “celebrity” chefs serving up their special dishes during Men Who Cook. This year, Tim is bringing back his smoked spare ribs and hopes the recipe will be another hit with the crowd. Last year, Tim’s cherry and pecan smoked spare ribs won the People’s Choice Award at Men Who Cook.
Voting on favorites is part of the fun of the festive cocktail-format event, which features a huge variety of great food, friendly chef competitions, and an auction. Each year, Men Who Cook helps WFLC raise more than 25 percent of its annual operating income. Tickets are on sale now at www.womenandfamilylife.org for what has become one of the shoreline’s premiere charity nights.
“It’s a great event,” says Tim, who enjoys donning an apron, rolling up his sleeves, and working elbow-to-elbow with local and state business, government and organization leaders. “There’s a bit of ego involved among the chefs, but it’s really just a lot of fun. It’s a great night for a great cause. Women & Family Life Center obviously does great stuff in the community. They fill a void and provide services with a regional approach.”
Tim has been getting involved with local shoreline causes since he joined GSB in 1994 and moved here with his wife, Melissa St. Germain Geelan, and their three boys, now grown: Dillon, Quinn, and Sawyer. Tim credits past GSB president Charles O’Malley, followed by immediate past president Margaret Livingston, with growing GSB’s community service philosophy to include employees at all levels.
In 2015 alone, GSB donated $250,000 to its local communities. Of that, $40,000 was donated to local community foundations, $22,000 given in higher education scholarships, and $14,000 in employee contributions matched by the company. In addition, GSB executives and employees gave 11,500 combined volunteer hours. Like Tim, many are affiliated with boards and help lead non-profit organizations (at last count, 60 non-profit boards of directors included GSB members).
“We’ve attracted a lot of talent because people see not just what we do from the business standpoint, but as a way of life and a philosophy. So we’re getting people—including many millenials—that aren’t just here for a job, but a career,” says Tim.
The bank not only works to support its communities, it seeks to attract and maintain customers and exceed expectations.
“We’re honored that we’ve been here since 1875, but we’re not stuck in the old days. We’re prudent and practical, but we’ve evolved with the times. The community bank model—it works,” Tim says. “We really view it as the engine of the community. If you lose a Guilford Savings, you lose a lot. It’s nothing against the big guys, but they’re not doing this stuff.”
The mutual bank has grown to seven branches since Tim joined (in 1994 GSB had two offices, both in Guilford, which remain in operation). It’s also stepped in to fill an important role in towns where community banks have otherwise disappeared. Branford Savings Bank, established in 1889, did business on South Main Street as a state savings bank until 1998, when it was renamed Superior Savings of New England, which became a national bank in 2000, and went on to be acquired by Capital One in 2008.
Guilford Savings Bank opened its full service brick and mortar Branford branch at 61 North Main Street in a new, stand-alone building in 2001. The bank also offers limited services in North Branford at Evergreen Woods. Other full service branches are in Madison, North Madison, and Old Saybrook. Tim says the idea of serving more than just one town was built in by the bank’s founders.
“In fact, if you go back to our original corporation, the corporators stretched from East Haven to Killingworth,” says Tim, a GSB trustee and corporator. “So it was always envisioned as a shoreline, more-encompassing bank.”
As a bank doing business on the shoreline and in Connecticut, “We view it as an opportunity for the bank, and sort of an obligation for the state as well, to drive the economic activity,” says Tim. “It’s a challenge, but we have a great group of people. We have a great board that’s really invested [with] the right governance, the right employees, the right leadership.”
Encouraging employees to get involved in the communities they serve is also a “win-win” for GSB and something all businesses should recognize as a valuable opportunity, Tim says.
“It’s a two-way street,” Tim says. “We’re giving, but we’re also receiving. I got my MBA at [the University of] New Haven and there was a professor who said you’ll find the best leaders in non-profits [because] there’s a philosophy of collaboration, getting people to follow you, getting people to work together. To get anything done, you have to have that skill set. So it’s a great training ground for our employees, too. So we receive a lot, too.”