Norcross, former TD Bank chief buy into Philly bank, angling to oust CEO Hill

George Norcross and former TD Bank CEO Greg Braca have announced an ownership stake in Philadelphia-based Republic First Bancorp, threatening to lead a revolt that would oust the CEO of its Republic Bank, former Commerce Bank founder Vernon Hill.

“Collectively, (the bank’s) results over the last several years have been so poor as to suggest an immediate reevaluation of strategy,” the two said in a letter to the board of directors said. “We also believe that, with the ability to provide input to the board, we can begin to help the company unlock value immediately through the company making specific changes in its leadership.”

The letter goes on to promote Braca for CEO, citing his leadership at TD Bank and more than 35 years in the industry.

Norcross and Braca said they have purchased 6.6% of the bank’s common shares, with the intent to buy more. That makes them the largest non-institutional and non-insider shareholders in the bank, they said.

“We have explored our options for making a substantial, long-term equity investment, and we welcome discussions with the board as we decide how best to build that investment,” the letter said.

However, the same letter detailed their dissatisfaction with Republic First’s stock performance.

“We believe that the underlying value of the company is substantially greater than that reflected by the company’s current trading price,” the letter said. “We would like the opportunity to consult with the board toward the development of the best approaches for the board to deliver on its underlying value to shareholders as soon as possible.

“We know that you and we are disappointed in the company’s market performance. Unfortunately, however, the facts are indisputable. For some time now, the company’s stock has historically traded at the lowest ratio of price to tangible book value of all banks with $1 billion or more in assets.”

The letter also offered some other initiatives Norcross and Braca want the directors to consider, including expanding the bank’s business in the New York and Philadelphia markets, increasing its investment in digital and financial technology, reining in expenses and more, including a community investment plan targeting majority-minority and low- and moderate-income communities.

“We believe we could help the company to develop and implement a reimagined strategy, in light of the vast experience of Mr. Braca as a community banker and Mr. George Norcross as a community leader and philanthropist,” the letter said.

In addition to Norcross and Braca, the letter is also signed by Philip Norcross, an attorney and George Norcross’ brother.