(April 30, 2018–ANNAPOLIS, Md.)–A wise leader listens to the people who clean the office. They hear a lot, they see a lot—they know a lot. They could run the place someday.
Maybe Leo Middleton and his bank-founding partners didn’t get advice from Leo’s teenaged son, the janitor. But that teen did grow up to be the CEO and chairman of the board.
In fact, Michael Middleton became the youngest bank president in the country when he took the helm in 1979, just six years after joining the bank’s staff.
Soon after, the nation fell into a major recession.
“That was an interesting thing to get an education in at age 31,” Middleton recalled.
It’s not the only education Middleton got on the fly. In relatively short order since its 1950 founding as Tri-County Building and Loan, Community Bank of the Chesapeake went from what he describes as a “little thrift” to a commercial bank with 12 branches $1.6 billion in assets, and a place in the pack with the market leaders.
Expertise and trust are the intangible value of that kind of development. Middleton sums up CBTC’s mission as helping small-business people thrive. That purpose, coupled with that expertise, put Middleton in front of Congress on Capitol Hill to testify about the impact small banks have not only on small businesses, but also on entire economic structures.
“At the end of the day, we contribute 52 percent of all small business in the country,” Middleton said. “That’s a very serious threat to economy, when that engine goes away. So I was very passionate about it.”
His passion led to board seats with the American Bankers Association, the Maryland Bankers Association, the Federal Home Loan Bank System, and more. He is a former director of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond’s Baltimore Branch and a past vice chair of the Federal Reserve Board’s Community Depository Institutions Advisory Committee. But these weren’t just jobs for Middleton.
“I’m privileged to sit on those boards and be an advocate for keeping the community banking sector alive,” he said.
That sense of commitment goes beyond advocating for banks and small businesses. It, and his business leadership, have earned him induction into the 2018 Maryland Business Hall of Fame on May 2.
He gives credit to his parents and his wife for helping inspire his belief in the power of community, and he helps guide CBTC to reflect power.
“The name of his bank is chosen for a reason,” said Nancy Easterling, executive director of the Historic Sotterley Plantation, where Middleton served as a board member. “He is all about community, and he’s about making our community a better place.”
Middleton, who retired as CEO in 2016 and remains board chair, said CBTC is involved, in some way, with about 400 local nonprofits. Whether it’s flipping burgers at a cookout or contributing to a fund, CBTC staffers are active.
“The corporation has always had, in its culture, giving,” he said. “We’re all involved. It’s really a lot of fun to make a difference.”
But often, leadership is what makes that difference. If the leader isn’t active, the organization won’t be active. Here again, Middleton quietly shines.
“He was one of the leaders in our area and set that standard,” Easterling said. “He believed in it wholeheartedly—that we have that responsibility—and sent the message to other individuals and other businesses: ‘Step up and make this better. Find ways that you can make our community a better place.’”
Middleton is modest about his place in community service, but other organizations recognize his work. He has received numerous honors and citations for the outreach service he does on his own and through CBTC, including the Business Philanthropy Award through the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and the Baltimore Business Journal. He is a trustee emeritus and former chair of the College of Southern Maryland.
He is also an advocate for colleagues and aspiring leaders. As chair of the Maryland Bankers Association, he intiated the Council of Professional Women in Banking and Finance. That association honored him with the Champion for Women Award.
Still, he continually gives the credit back to others who have likeminded approaches to what a community bank should be.
“It’s all empowered by people,” he said. “There’s a really good culture here now, and everybody strives really hard to keep that culture alive.”
Middleton joins Classic Catering People President Harriet Dopkin, as well as retired Lockheed Martin Chair and former Acting Army Secretary Norm Augustine, in the Maryland Business Hall of Fame this year. The awards are part of a celebratory evening at the Hilton Baltimore BWI Airport Hotel beginning at 5:30 p.m., featuring keynote speaker Gov. Larry Hogan. Register at mdchamber.org/events.