Our Opinion: Daly's departure raises questions for bank

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The departure on Monday of Michael Daly, the CEO of Berkshire Bank and president and director of its corporate parent, Berkshire Hills Bancorp, was as mysterious as it was abrupt (Eagle, Nov. 27). Mr. Daly, known throughout the Berkshires business community for his stewardship of a small local banking operation into a regional powerhouse — as well as for his bank's prodigious philanthropic efforts and investments— made the Pittsfield native an icon both locally and in the rarefied atmosphere of the national financial world.

Mr. Daly, who worked his way up Berkshire Bank's corporate ladder, took control of Berkshire Hills Bancorp and the bank in 2002 when the Pittsfield-based operation boasted 300 employees. As of his resignation, Berkshire Bank, now based in Boston with 2,000 employees, has over $12 billion in assets, is the largest independent Massachusetts-headquartered bank, and conducts business in 113 branches scattered throughout six states. Its employees have donated tens of thousands of hours of service through its corporate volunteer program and the bank has given nearly $5 million to the Berkshires community in donations. Throughout this period, and in spite of last year's corporate move to Boston, the corporation and Mr. Daly never lost sight of their Berkshire roots, and maintains its operational center in Pittsfield.

In the face of this remarkable growth and the corporation's ongoing success, the resignation of Mr. Daly, 56, is to say the least, puzzling. According to an SEC filing, Mr. Daly was given a $7.5-million separation package, and the bank has remained tight-lipped about the reason for his departure. Bloomberg News has alluded to a letter purportedly written by employees citing a "toxic" workplace culture that was sent to "analysts, several bank insiders and members of the community," according to a bank and asset management firm. This letter may have no connection to Mr. Daly's resignation, but its existence coupled with the corporation's silence on the matter gives rise to more questions.

Berkshire Hills Bancorp is a publicly traded company; therefore, its shareholders as well as its depositors have a valid claim to transparency on the part of the institution in which they have invested their money. The have a right to know if Mr. Daly — whose personal abilities are a major contributor to Berkshire Bank's success — left under a cloud or for some other reason. Moreover, the region, which has benefited so much from Mr. Daly's philanthropy and the largesse of the company he headed, has a stake in knowing whether the new leadership retains its continuing robust commitment to the welfare of the bank's home turf. If Mr. Daly's departure was a necessary precursor to a deal wherein Berkshire Bank would be swallowed up by a national behemoth, for example, the new owners might have no particular interest in a county that Mr. Daly clearly cared about, and who backed up his sentiments with action.

Amid this atmosphere of uncertainty and rumor, it would behoove Berkshire County's largest financial institution and generous corporate giver to put an end to speculation that will run contrary to the company's best interests and offer an explanation of Mr. Daly's departure and assurances, if it can provide them, about Berkshire Bank's future in the Berkshires.




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