Bill Wagner’s three life rules encompass the same overall ideal: Take strict care of family, the community and work hard.
Wagner credits his father, who he said raised him to value family, have a strong work ethic and consider community service an obligation. “I’ve tried to give back and be a good citizen,” said Wagner, who will celebrate 29 years as president and CEO of Chicopee Savings Bank this August. “That’s all you can do in life.”
Wagner said his family is one of the most important things to him — wife Karen, two sons and two daughters. “My life is my four kids. I’ve always been committed to making sure they have opportunities,” he said.
And with nearly 50 years in banking altogether, he has. Wagner began his tenure as a coin roller, working what was at that time a sophisticated coin-rolling machine while still a senior in high school in West Springfield, Mass. He said he’s rolled too many coins to count but that first interaction at a bank gave him a wide enough view of banking to know it could be interesting. Wagner began as full-time as a teller after high school graduation.
He then went to college at night for eight years while working at the bank during the day and received a degree in accounting from Western New England College. He then worked “in just about every department” at another bank for 18 years.
Now, Wagner, who is 66 years old, said he keeps afternoons open in order to participate in various community service efforts. He is on the advisory board of the Women’s Correctional Center and the Metropolitan Planning Organization. He has been the treasurer of the Eastern States Exposition for 22 years, and he is co-chair of the Brightside 2013 Golf Tournament. He also belongs to the West Springfield Rotary Club and participates in the Easter Seals annual fundraiser campaign, among many other efforts.
“When I join things, I don’t miss meetings,” said Wagner, who lives in Longmeadow, Mass. “I go to meetings and I participate.”
Nancy Velozo, vice president of consumer lending at Chicopee Savings, remembered when she asked Wagner nearly 20 years ago if Chicopee Savings would consider underwriting funds to bus participants for the first Bay State Health Foundation’s Rays of Hope breast cancer walk from a parking lot to a temple where the race started.
“He said ‘absolutely’,” recalled Velozo. “No questions asked; the money was there. And, even though he’s president of the bank, he is at the walk on cold mornings in October pouring water for these walkers. Nothing is above him, and nothing is below him.”
Velozo noted Wagner’s mentorship. “He leads by example. He puts himself out there in so many organizations, doing so much, and he encourages all his officers to do the same,” she said.
When it comes to the banking business, providing loans to startups and taking Chicopee Savings public are two of Wagner’s fondest memories. Contractors and manufacturers are among the many fledgling businesses for which the bank has provided loans, he said.
Over the course of his tenure, Chicopee Savings’ assets have grown from $125 million to $600 million, according to Wagner.
“I’ve been particularly proud of all the startups I’ve done,” he said. “It’s an exciting part of the business to have a little bit of venture capital tone to a loan. And to have it be successful and have it become a big company that’s doing business with you 40 years later, that makes you feel good inside.”
The bank, meanwhile, went public in 2006, raising $110 million, something Wagner said was necessary because the bank had, at the time, too much of a commercial lending bend. Now the bank is 25 percent owned by the employees and the board, with the rest owned by depositors.
Despite a long and successful career, don’t expect Wagner to leave banking any time soon. “I don’t even picture myself retiring,” he said.