Merrill W. Sherman was recently honored with the United Way of Rhode Island’s Tocqueville Society Award in recognition of more than 15 years of generous contributions of both time and resources as a member of UWRI’s Tocqueville Society. Sherman has received recognition for both her professional and personal accomplishments, including Citizen of the Year by March of Dimes in 2007. She has served as a director for several organizations, including Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Providence & Worcester Railroad Co. and The Providence Journal Co. Sherman also helped spearhead the creation of Bank Rhode Island in 1996 and served as the president and CEO of BanCorp Rhode Island Inc. until 2012. Sherman continues to provide leadership roles for several educational, civic and philanthropic institutions and she was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2007.
PBN: What made you choose to participate in such a wide breadth of fields?
SHERMAN: Part of it was and is simply a question of following my interests, which are varied. Another reason was that opportunities presented themselves for me to be of real help, and that is appealing. Whether it’s improving government or health care, providing a safety net, fostering art and culture, or supporting education, there are multiple ways to be involved.
PBN: What brought you to banking after being a lawyer, and how did you bring BankRI to fruition?
SHERMAN: One of my clients was a troubled savings bank. In 1991, the CEO asked me to come inside as an EVP for credit administration. When he resigned shortly after my arrival, the board – to the surprise of many, including me – asked me to assume his role. That launched my career as a bank CEO. Several years later, I partnered with Kim Chace to bid on some branches being divested as part of the Fleet/Shawmut merger. We saw an opportunity for a midsized commercial bank to be formed in the Greater Providence area, with those branches as a base. Fortunately we were the winning bidder and were right about the opportunity. That was the beginning of BankRI. It remains a successful, thriving commercial bank.
PBN: Is there an organization or cause that you feel most strongly about?
SHERMAN: There are so many worthwhile causes and excellent nonprofits it is hard to pick one. That said, if I were to focus on Greater Providence, I think that both Crossroads RI and the Providence Foundation play particularly meaningful roles.
PBN: How do you keep up with so many causes?
SHERMAN: Being a workaholic helps! When I was a bank president, being visible and active in the community was part of the job. So I made sure to find the time. Now I sit on five nonprofit boards and am active in other organizations as well. As a result, I get to meet lots of interesting people, am in regular contact with a wide range of personalities, ages and perspectives, and am able stay current on what is happening in the world. And maybe I still am able to make a difference by helping worthwhile organizations meet their goals. Isn’t that what it’s all about? •