SANTA ROSA -- After guiding the 123-year-old Exchange Bank through one of the toughest economic recessions in U.S. history, William "Bill" Schrader, president and chief executive, will retire this March, the CEO said.

Mr. Schrader will continue serving as chairman of the bank's board of directors, with William Reinking, current chairman and a former president himself, retiring from that role. Gary Hartwick, currently chief operating officer, will become CEO, Mr. Schrader said.

[caption id="attachment_87377" align="alignleft" width="165"] Bill Schrader[/caption]

The decision follows a career in banking that began as a financial regulator and most recently included 36 years at Exchange Bank. Mr. Schrader became president in 2008, a role he assumed as the bank faced millions in losses at the height of the financial crisis.

The bank has since seen continued recovery in its portfolio quality and earnings, highlighted most recently by the repurchase and retirement on Feb. 14 of all remaining shares that Exchange Bank sold to the U.S. Department of the Treasury through the Capital Purchase Program in 2008, he said.

Mr. Schrader described the retirement of those remaining shares, which had generated $45 million in capital for the bank as part of a program involving hundreds of institutions around the country, as something of a full-circle for his tenure as president.

It was Treasury's auction of those shares on the private market in July 2012 that freed Exchange Bank from a technicality barring the return of its regular quarterly shareholder dividend, which was suspended in 2008. With 51 percent of those shares held in the trust administering the Doyle scholarship at Santa Rosa Junior College, the resumption of payments in 2012 was widely celebrated.

"It's a new beginning for the bank," said Mr. Schrader, who remains in his current role until March 21. "We retired the stock. Our earnings are going forward. The scholarship is back. Our balance sheet is strong."

The scholarship -- named for Exchange Bank's co-founder and second president, Frank Doyle -- has funded more than $76 million to over 115,000 students since it began in 1948, according to the bank.

[caption id="attachment_19541" align="alignleft" width="108"] Gary Hartwick[/caption]

A native of Sacramento, Mr. Hartwick joined Exchange Bank as chief credit officer in January 2009. "All but five" of his 37 years in banking have been in community institutions, previously as chief credit officer of Sacramento's River City Bank, he said.

“Exchange Bank has a tremendous history and legacy, and I will continue to honor that legacy. It’s a legacy that Bill Reinking and his father Charles Reinking were a part of for 95 years. The Reinking families commitment to Exchange Bank and the community is unprecedented," he said.

Mr. Hartwick has focused on restoring the bank's credit quality since the recession, and said today's Exchange Bank stands to grow steadily in the coming years.

"We're not going to look to grow aggressively," he said. "We're going to grow on a slower, consistent basis, with prudent underwriting, good loan quality and through good relationships."

The COO role is not currently expected to be filled after the transition, Mr. Schrader said.

It was in 2008 that Exchange Bank suffered $18 million in losses, swept up in a wave of loan defaults and other economic pressures affecting lenders throughout the country.

Yet those days appear to be steadily receding. Exchange Bank reported what its executives said was the first year of meaningful post-recession loan growth, an important measure for community banks, in 2013. Loan volume was up 8.2 percent for the year, along with improvements in asset quality and a 28 percent increase in annual earnings. Exchange Bank had $1.78 billion in assets as of Dec. 31, 2013.

The bank  also recently announced a 17 percent increase to its quarterly dividend, which now stands at 35 cents. While a fraction of the all-time annual high of $6.10 paid to shareholders in 2007, the dividend represents increased confidence in the regional economic outlook and annual payments exceeding $1.2 million to the Frank P. Doyle and Polly O’Meara Doyle Scholarship Fund trust, bank executives said.

Mr. Schrader noted there are approximately half as many banks today as in 1990, a period where intense economic and regulatory pressures have fueled a wave of consolidations. Aggressive pursuit of new technology has helped Exchange Bank to remain competitive in today's landscape, along with a relationship-driven approach widely recognized in the North Bay, he said.

"Community banks like Exchange Bank will continue to play a vital role in commerce. We live and work in this marketplace. We understand small business -- frankly, we're a small business," he said. "With today's tech, it's created a level playing field. We can't compete just on a feel-good story about history. The customer today wants the bank on any day, at any time."

While expecting to still devote significant time to the bank as chairman, Mr. Schrader said that he was looking forward to retirement and more time to devote to community causes.

"I must have about 30, 40 books where I'm on page 30," he said with a laugh.