After decades of representing banks from the outside, George Whitley has crossed over.
The longtime local attorney recently left LeClairRyan to become in-house counsel at TowneBank, a Suffolk-based bank that Whitley has represented since its inception in 2000, and during its major push into the Richmond market in the last two years.
TowneBank CEO Bob Aston said Whitley has represented him since 1984, and helped at his two previous banks in Hampton Roads, Commerce Bank and Citizens Trust Co.
“We understand and know each other pretty well,” Aston said. “We’ve been down a lot of trails together.”
Aston said the move also was driven by the bank’s current and future growth – specifically its approach toward reaching $10 billion in assets, a size threshold that requires more robust provisions to comply with.
“As we get to the $10 billion mark, we’ll have another whole set of regulatory requirements that will kick in, and he’ll be a big asset,” Aston said.
TowneBank is approaching $8 billion in total assets, according to its most recently reported figures.
“Whether we buy (another bank) or we don’t, we’ll probably hit that mark over the next 24 to 36 months, and there’s a lot involved in getting prepared for that,” he said.
Whitley began his law career in Richmond in 1979 with Mays Valentine, a firm that eventually became Troutman Sanders. He joined LeClairRyan in its early days in 1994.
He said his practice mostly has represented community banks in Virginia, helping them with mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, capital raises and other matters.
“I may have been the 18th lawyer at LeClairRyan” at the time, Whitley said. “I have many dear friends there and they continue to do work for TowneBank.”
Not one for fanfare, Whitley started quietly at TowneBank in the fall, with the bank just now formally announcing his arrival.
His title at TowneBank is chief legal officer and he’s working out of the bank’s Richmond headquarters in Gateway Plaza downtown.
He said a noticeable difference in his day-to-day is not juggling multiple clients and digging into more of the nitty gritty of Towne’s daily operations.
“It allows me to pour my heart and soul into one client, which is great,” he said. “And it allows me to be involved in some of the strategic biz decisions, which is fun.”
And for a guy who has worked only at law firms since 1979, Whitley said he feels a bit like he’s starting over.
“I’m an old guy, so this was like getting a mulligan in life.”