Updated March 25 at 6:25am

Issa leads Flagstar N.E. offensive

After years as Sovereign Bank’s top executive in Rhode Island, Steven Issa is starting over.

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Issa leads Flagstar N.E. offensive


After years as Sovereign Bank’s top executive in Rhode Island, Steven Issa is starting over.

Instead of running a unit that has nearly three dozen branches, hundreds of employees and almost $2 billion in deposits, Issa is busy these days picking out furniture for his new sixth-floor office in the Textron Building in Providence and meeting with job candidates.

Issa has been tapped by Troy, Mich.-based Flagstar Bancorp Inc. to spearhead the $13.6 billion bank’s foray into New England, first with lending offices in Providence, Boston and Hartford, then, if things go well, with bank branches.

It’s familiar territory for Issa, a Central Falls native who was hired to perform a similar task for Sovereign Bank in 1997, even before it acquired dozens of Rhode Island branches following the merger of Fleet Bank and Bank Boston.

As an advance man for Sovereign, Issa and his small staff had built a $300 million loan portfolio in New England before the bank had opened a branch.

“I didn’t even know how to spell Sovereign,” Issa said recently, recalling when he was first hired. “It was exciting … me and my cell phone. Now we want to do it again.”

Issa told Providence Business News that he left Sovereign on his own in November, after he didn’t agree with a shift in the bank’s New England operations.

“They had a reorganization that was more centralized into Boston,” Issa explained. “Basically, I wanted to do something new and exciting, so we parted ways very amicably.”

In fact, earlier this month, Issa attended Sovereign Bank’s annual economic-outlook breakfast in Providence. In years past he had acted as emcee. This time, he reminisced with former colleagues.

“It was my decision to leave,” he said. “These are good people. We worked hard to build what we had at Sovereign, and we want to do some deals with them.”

The Flagstar job reunites Issa with Joseph P. Campanelli, the former CEO of Sovereign who was replaced in late 2008 as Spanish bank Banco Santander SA prepared to purchase Sovereign.

Campanelli is now chairman and CEO of Flagstar, parent of Flagstar Bank, which has 162 banking centers in Michigan, Indiana and Georgia and 27 home-loan centers in 13 states, including one in Warwick.

Why would a bank with a Midwest footprint take a leap into New England, where the population is stagnant, the recession has hammered businesses and many established banks complain loan demand has wilted?

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