First Federal leader passes baton

Tom Hood was chief executive officer of First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Charleston for 15 years.

Brad Nettles

Tom Hood, the longtime top executive of the largest and oldest bank based in the Charleston region, turned over most of the leadership reins to a successor Tuesday as he prepares to retire next year.

Hood, who had been chief executive officer of First Federal Savings and Loan Association of Charleston for 15 years, passed on that title to R. Wayne Hall effective immediately.

Hall, who is being promoted from the finance side of the business, also was named president and CEO of the bank's parent, First Financial Holdings Inc.

Hood will continue as president of the lending subsidiary and as director of the bank and First Financial until he retires in June 2011.

Hood, 63, was not available to comment Tuesday about the succession plan, which comes after the bank has sustained some heavy financial losses amid the real estate downturn.

Dorothy B. Wright, vice president of investor relations, said the announcement of his retirement was unrelated to the bank's recent results. She noted that when Hood was tapped to succeed his predecessor, A.L. Hutchinson Jr., the two executives shared titles for a year to ensure a smooth transition.

"The board and Tom have been working strategically on succession plans for the last couple of years," Wright said. "This is a similar situation."

Bank industry analyst Christopher Marinac, who follows First Financial as managing principal and director of research for Atlanta-based FIG Partners, said the leadership change is "part of the business life of the company, and it should not have been unanticipated."

"Tom has certainly got the company through some challenging waters, but the company is on good footing," he said.

Marinac also credited the incoming CEO Hall for his leadership role in executing First Federal's successful government-assisted takeover of the failed Wilmington, N.C.-based Cape Fear Bank last year.

Hall had joined the company as an executive vice president in late 2006, and was the principal financial and accounting officer and chief financial officer for the past three years. He was promoted to First Federal's chief operating officer in July 2009.

Hall said in a statement that he was "very pleased with the confidence the board has placed in me."

"I look forward to continuing Tom's efforts in the successful operation of the company and First Federal and moving forward with our established strategic plan," he said.

A graduate of The Citadel and certified public accountant, Hood is a longtime fixture on the local banking scene who climbed his way through the ranks at First Federal. He he began his career with the bank in 1975, helped take the company public in 1983 and was elected to the board of directors in 1987.

After being named president and CEO of First Federal in February 1995, he assumed the same titles at the parent firm in July 1996.

Paula Harper Bethea, chairman of the board of both companies, commended Hood for his service.

"His dedication, vision and guidance have helped us build a strong, successful financial institution and we are forever grateful for his leadership," she said in statement. "The rest of the directors and I are very excited about our transition plans as we anticipate Tom's retirement in June 2011, and that Wayne is assuming these additional responsibilities at the company and First Federal as part of this transition plan. We are excited to watch Wayne continue in his strong leadership of our organization and to implement his team's operating and strategic plans."

First Federal operates 65 offices, mostly in coastal markets that have been battered by the real estate downturn.

Last month, First Financial reported a second-quarter loss of about $20 million after having to set aside nearly $46 million to cover shaky or soured loans at the banking unit. Its loss for the first half of its fiscal year widened to $23.6 million from $3.4 million in fiscal 2009.

The succession plan announced Tuesday was disclosed after U.S. stock markets had closed. Shares of First Financial ended the day about 3 percent higher, rising 42 cents to $14.78

Reach John P. McDermott at 937-5572 or Reach Katy Stech at 937-5549 or