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As a kid growing up in Worcester, Seth Pitts didn’t dream of leading a bank. When he was studying at Worcester State University, he just figured his math skills lent themselves to finance, and he found he enjoyed accounting and business classes.
“I knew at some point somewhere, I wanted to wear a suit,” Pitts said.
He will do just that when he is promoted to be the next CEO of Worcester institution Bay State Savings Bank, which he will take over Sept. 1 following the Aug. 31 retirement of current President and CEO Peter Alden.
At the start of his career, after getting his master’s degree from UMass Boston, Pitts embraced the motto, “Service before self,” and he went to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency. In that job, the city kid traveled to rural communities like Florida, Mass., a town with a population around 700 he hadn’t even known existed.
“I would be in elderly people’s homes, helping them fill out a grant application to fix their roofs,” Pitts said.
Helping first-time homeowners, local communities, and small businesses get the support they needed, Pitts got a feel for the impact of finance on everyday lives. After that, his next job, also with the federal government, took him in an entirely different direction. He became an examiner for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., traveling the country to help banks at risk of failure.
“You’re making sure things are going smoothly so the unfortunate thing doesn’t happen,” he said.
The job gave him the chance to see all kinds of banking issues and work with teams at large and small banks. It brought him an appreciation for the importance of financial institutions in the lives of communities.
Pitts said he loved both federal jobs, and he’s proud of the pin he received in honor of a decade of public service. But when he got the opportunity to return to Worcester to become chief financial officer of Bay State Savings Bank in 2020, he viewed it as a chance to bring all the experience he’d gained back to his own community.
He joined the bank just as the COVID pandemic was taking hold, which made for a strange transition period, but he said President and CEO Peter Alden and the rest of the team went out of their way to make him feel welcome. While he enjoyed the travel involved in his work for the FDIC, he’s happy to come home each night to his wife and two kids.
Pitts, now 35, said he had no idea when he took the CFO job he’d be advancing to lead the bank in just a few years, Yet, when Alden decided to retire, Pitts was the perfect fit to fill his shoes, said William Fay II, chairman of Bay State’s board of directors.
“He just has a great perspective for community banking,” Fay said. “For a young man, he’s been around banking for a long time. He understands the roots and the core value in what Bay State Savings Bank stands for.”
Headquartered on Franklin Street in Worcester, with six locations in Worcester, Auburn, and Holden, Bay State has been part of the local community since its founding in 1895. Pitts compares it to Barrows Hardware Store in Webster Square, a 109-year-old Worcester institution where he shops a few times a month.
“Every time I go in that store, they are always greeting me, helping me, literally dropping what they’re doing to help,” he said. “That value proposition is not one I get at Home Depot or Lowe’s big-box stores. You can really feel the customer service and the willingness to go the extra mile every single time.”
Just like Barrows and Bay State Savings, Pitts is Worcester through and through.
“I know just about every inch of the city,” he said. “I know I can go to any part of the city and find someone I know.”
Pitts will be the first Black man and person of color to lead Bay State Savings. That means he has a connection to communities not always well served by financial institutions.
Gregory Benoit, math education lecturer and assistant director for the Earl Center for Learning & Innovation at Boston University, has been friends with Pitts since they were roommates at Worcester State. Benoit told his friend to be aware of the extra criticism he can expect to receive as a Black man in a high-powered position, but Benoit said Pitts has years of experience being one of the few Black people in a room.
“I feel like he’s been kind of meeting these challenges very early on, like entering the business program at Worcester State, being one of the very few Black people in that program,” he said.
Pitts has never been one to shrink from a challenge, Benoit said.
“The best thing you could do for him, and the worst thing you could do for him, is say, ‘I bet you you can’t do that,’” he said.
For Pitts, the new position is a chance to be a role model for young people who may not have seen someone who looks like themselves in this kind of job before.
“It just kind of sets a new pathway for a lot of people who maybe didn’t think of this as a path for them,” he said.
In the weeks after his promotion was announced on June 29, Pitts said he saw an outpouring of support, not just from his proud relatives but from people who he doesn’t even know personally but are thrilled to have their community represented at the top of an important city institution.
“For me to be that for a group of people is something that I take as an honor,” he said.
Benoit said he sees the same thing, including among young Black men in Worcester who know Pitts best by his initials, S.P.
“To me, I’m like, ‘How dope is it that you get to impact meaningful change in a place where you grew up, where you have lived experience,’” he said. “Young Black boys can look at him and say ‘S.P. did it.’”