Five Questions With: James W. Blake

James W. Blake has been CEO of HarborOne Bank since 1995. Brockton, Mass.-based HarborOne has retail banking operations in southeastern Massachusetts and the Providence area. In 2016, Blake was also named CEO of the bank’s parent company, HarborOne Bancorp Inc. He joined the bank in 1993 as chief operating officer.

Prior to HarborOne, Blake served as senior vice president of retail banking and marketing at Mechanics Bank in Worcester, Mass. He also has served on the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Community Depository Institutions Advisory Council. He also has been a director of the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency since 2016 and has served on the board of the Massachusetts Credit Union League (HarborOne used to be a credit union).

PBN: How might the bank’s upcoming stock offering to raise up to $300 million affect the bank’s operations?

BLAKE: The conversion to a fully public stock holding company and the accompanying capital raised will provide the financial strength and additional flexibility to achieve our goals for future growth.

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PBN: Like HarborOne, many banks are benefitting primarily from the commercial lending market. How much of that is tied to the housing market collapses of a decade ago?

BLAKE: The housing collapse taught us much diversification, trust and quality of credit, but it did not necessarily serve as the driver for our expansion into commercial lending. Moving from a credit union to a bank gave us fewer geographic restrictions and the opportunity to diversify our revenue streams through growth in commercial banking.

An important factor driving that growth was HarborOne’s ability to attract experienced commercial lenders. HarborOne Bank’s strategic growth has been centered around commercial lending, as well as the mortgage-lending business. The acquisition of Merrimack Mortgage – now HarborOne Mortgage – positioned the bank to compete across the region.

PBN: With HarborOne hosting its own version of “Shark Tank” for regional entrepreneurs to compete for $10,000, what’s the value for the bank in supporting startup businesses?

BLAKE: Small business is a significant driver of the local economy in general. Through our unique multilingual small-business programs of “HarborOne U” and a dedicated small-business team, we see an excellent opportunity for growth in the small-business sector, which will spur future deposit and lending opportunities for HarborOne.

PBN: HarborOne’s foundation recently announced $75,000 in grants to organizations in Rhode Island. What’s the value for the bank in supporting community groups?

BLAKE: The work of these nonprofit organizations contributes greatly to the vibrancy and health of the local community. Investing in organizations that create educational opportunity, improve access to affordable housing and provide basic needs to our most vulnerable citizens aligns with the bank’s core values of service, community and trust.

PBN: With HarborOne’s mortgage subsidiary recently opening its first office in New Jersey, does that mean it is primarily looking to expand that line of business outside New England, rather than inside it?

BLAKE: HarborOne will continue to look for opportunities to expand within the New England area and outside the region as well, however, our mortgage business remains focused in New England. Actually, our newest office is opening in Needham, Mass., this week.

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.