BUILDING SOMETHING: Baltic Group Managing Partner Irene Schmitt surveys 400 Wesminster St. with Harold Antonson, grey jacket, city of Providence electrical inspector, and Don Hardy of Sheridan Electric.
Turning around a failing institution like the former Framingham Savings Bank in Massachusetts is no small feat, but it’s one that led to Irene A. Schmitt’s latest role as an agent of change in a firm she founded and owns.
TD Banknorth bought out the savings bank in 2001, but only after Schmitt helped position the bank to survive a legacy of bad loans, and become its president under a new name, MetroWest Bank.
The problems Schmitt, 50, who now lives in Cumberland, faced head-on and turned into opportunities at Framingham Savings proved pivotal in leading to the work she does today for the business she founded and runs as managing partner, the Baltic Group. This real estate investment trust matches investors’ needs with opportunities, often involving turnarounds of underperforming assets.
“I was 26 years old and hardworking and they had a few problem loans,” Schmitt said of the period between 1989 and 1993 when she was faced with a growing number of savings-bank foreclosures but had to grow the portfolio as well. “Never did any of us envision that we would end up with more than 600 failed projects that needed to be totally restructured – and there was nobody to buy them. I just rolled up my sleeves and went to work.”
That period challenged Schmitt as she was trying to raise a young family with her husband, Scott.
“I spent four years just going to foreclosures,” she recalled.
Schmitt, who graduated from Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., in 1984 with a B.A. in business management, took the initiative to present a business plan to the bank’s board. It involved setting up a real estate investment company and then running it: hiring property managers, real estate brokers, leasing people.
“I call it common sense,” she said. “There was nobody there who wanted a failed project, but once we fixed it, we could sell it, and we started building our portfolio of good customers.”