So how does a pro-football hopeful go into teaching for a handful of years only to change careers, and by age 60 find himself running America’s oldest community bank?
“I always had the feeling there was something else I could do,” said Joseph MarcAurele, chairman, president and CEO of Washington Trust Bancorp Inc. – the largest independent bank in Rhode Island – of the decision to switch from teaching to business. “I’d always had an interest in business but never acted on it. I just made the decision it was time to make a break.”
It turned out to be the right one. Not only was he good at the business, the former head of Citizens Bank turned out to be a fine humanitarian as well: MarcAurele is this year’s winner for Corporate Citizenship in Providence Business News’ 2011 Business Excellence Awards, an honor based on his wide-ranging community service that includes his current stint as president of the board of directors at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
As a teen, MarcAurele was a three-sport, All-State athlete at St. Raphael’s Academy in his hometown of Pawtucket. He went on to excel in football at Holy Cross, where he earned a degree in English. Once out of college, he signed on as a free agent with the New England Patriots, which he admitted sounds more glamorous than it was.
“Well, I lasted through training camp,” he said. “That was really it. The bottom line is I was a very good high school athlete, a good college athlete and I had the chance to try out for pro football.”
Though his pro-ball career never materialized, the chance to have one, he said, “was terrific, it really was. But I think the thing I’m most proud of athletically was being co-captain of the Holy Cross football team. I’ve had all kinds of honors over time, but I’m most proud of that, it came from my teammates, a testimony to my leadership ability.”
Out of college and football, he jumped into the teaching world, first at Oxford High School outside Worcester, Mass., where he taught eighth-grade English and was assistant football and baseball coach. In Pawtucket one summer he saw an advertisement in the Pawtucket Times for a teaching job at St. Raphael’s, his alma mater. He got the teaching gig and also coached sports, becoming athletic director and then assistant principal, his education career lasting six years.
He then got married and started thinking about how he would support a family. He tried his hand at business, first doing sales for Dryvit in West Warwick for a couple years.
“I left teaching not because I didn’t like it, I liked it a lot, it was very good for me,” he said. “I got a lot of responsibility pretty fast and learned a lot in terms of leadership and management.”
After that, he dipped his feet in the financial waters by entering the commercial-banking training program at the old Fleet Bank.
“In some ways, I had an advantage there, being a little bit older than a usual trainee,” he said. “Leadership opportunities presented themselves sooner than they may otherwise have.”
He would later put in 16 years at Citizens Bank, working from 1993 to 2001 in the areas of commercial lending, wealth management and private banking. He was president of the bank from 2007-2009, on the way up holding positions of president and chief executive officer of Citizen Bank entities in Connecticut and Florida.
He came to Washington Trust in 2009 as president and chief operating officer, earning his current status in August 2010, picking up the title of chairman as well as president and chief executive officer of Washington Trust Bancorp., Inc., and The Washington Trust Co. The bank, founded in 1800, is a $2.9 billion corporation headquartered in Westerly.
As important as his work is leading the bank, MarcAurele says, is the work he and his wife do for the community. They are donors to numerous nonprofits and charitable causes, and as head of Washington Trust he oversees the bank’s charitable foundation, which supports hundreds of organizations throughout the state. Under his leadership, Washington Trust donated nearly $700,000 to nonprofits in 2010.
“I really enjoy the nonprofit work that has to do with education, and dealing with people who are underprivileged or in need,” he said. “I’ve been on a lot of boards, and am very proud to be president of the food bank, that’s an example of an agency that’s really needed in today’s economic environment.
“My wife and I have chaired just about every major fundraising event there is, and we’re mostly attracted to things [dealing] with education or basic human needs,” he said “Those are the things we’ve raised money for. To the extent you can bring your influence to bear to raise money for good causes, you do it.”
MarcAurele is also active in many other areas, and currently serves on the board of trustees of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce; the President’s Council of Providence College; the boards of directors at Rhode Island Hospital and The Miriam Hospital; the board for the Urban Collaborative Accelerated Program; the board for the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council; and the board of directors for Delta Dental of Rhode Island.
In addition, MarcAurele served as chair of the Governor’s Workforce Board of Rhode Island until June of this year, and on the board of directors of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, prior to joining its board of trustees. He is also an executive committee member of the Rhode Island Commodores, a nonprofit, uncompensated group of businesspeople who act as goodwill ambassadors for Rhode Island.
According to Elizabeth B. Eckel, the bank’s senior vice president of marketing, who nominated MarcAurele for the Corporate Citizenship honor, “Joe is the quintessential community servant and probably the person for whom the term ‘regular Joe’ was coined. He is a down-to-earth gentleman who inspires people at all levels to do what’s right, do whatever it takes and help in any way, whether it’s with time, talent or money.”
As a leader of a business in Rhode Island, particularly a well-regarded, successful and historic financial institution, MarcAurele said, “you have an obligation as someone active in the business community and leadership to give back, to help others. You owe it.” •