Timothy Mayopoulos, the veteran financial services lawyer tapped to salvage Silicon Valley Bank, is back on the market.
Mayopoulos in March helped orchestrate the sale of SVB to resolve the largest US bank bust since 2008. He remains part of the US government’s “standby pool” of executives ready to take key roles at faltering financial institutions if called on, what he likened to being a “first responder in the financial system.”
The former top in-house lawyer for Bank of America and one-time chief executive at Fannie Mae also has on his resume an eight-year stint at Wall Street’s Davis Polk & Wardwell. He’s not looking to return to legal practice.
“I enjoyed practicing law and being a general counsel,” Mayopoulos said. “But I don’t have any plans to return to law practice. It was great training for me to do all of the things I’ve done since I stopped practicing law.”
In a roughly four-decade career, Mayopoulos has often found himself at the heart of economic storms, from doing post-graduate legal services work for low-income individuals in Binghamton, N.Y., to helping Bank of America Corp. and Fannie Mae navigate the fallout from the global financial crisis.
The native of Wyomissing, Pa., got the call from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. to run SVB amid the latest banking market turmoil. The bridge bank was eventually sold to First Citizens BancShares Inc., while SVB’s former parent company, Santa Clara, Calif.-based SVB Financial Group, filed for bankruptcy.
The bankruptcy was an unfortunate byproduct of the FDIC’s successful intervention, Mayopoulos said. The agency’s establishment of a bridge bank led to SVB Financial’s shareholders being wiped out and many creditors suffering losses, which some are seeking to recoup in Chapter 11.
“There’s always costs in every FDIC resolution,” said Mayopoulos, who touted his team’s work in calming financial markets and serving SVB’s customers. “The goal is to get to the least cost resolution, the one that involves the lowest loss.”
Mayopoulos is a member of the FDIC’s Systemic Resolution Advisory Committee, a body tasked with advising the regulator on thorny financial issues.
The FDIC gave Mayopoulos his pick of whether to work on SVB or Signature Bank, which was acquired in late March by New York Community Bancorp. Mayopoulos chose SVB, in part due to his ties to Silicon Valley, where he spent the past few years as president of Blend Labs Inc., a San Francisco-based mortgage lending platform that went public in 2021.
Mayopoulos parted ways with Blend Labs in January, after earning $3.8 million in total compensation as its president last year. He remains a member of the financial technology company’s board.
As chief executive of the bridge bank, Mayopoulos needed SVB’s clients—from venture capitalists to startups—to stick with the bank and help it emerge from its tailspin. The first thing he did at SVB was meet with the bank’s senior leadership to assess the situation and try and rally the troops.
“I can’t do this by myself,” he recalled. “We’re all going to get evaluated on how we comport ourselves in this time of stress.”
During the decade he spent at Fannie Mae, Mayopoulos oversaw the mortgage giant’s business and legal functions under a US government conservatorship. He said calmness amid crisis is a crucial trait for in-house lawyers.
“There are a lot of people who will not be calm—and I think that’s where lawyers can be extraordinarily helpful,” he said.
Mayopoulos worries that pressures in Big Law today are forcing junior lawyers to specialize too early in their careers.
When he started at Davis Polk in the mid-1980s, Mayopoulos said associates spent their first few years rotating among several different practices. Dabbling in corporate, litigation, and tax work made Mayopoulos a better lawyer when he moved in-house, he said, adding that so much of what he learned early on came from chatting with his fellow associates in the Davis Polk cafeteria late at night.
“I tend to look for people who are not only good technicians, but those who are prepared to bring a broader business perspective to a set of problems and recommend a course of action,” Mayopoulos said.
The most valuable legal advice he’s received hasn’t been something that came to him after thousands of billable hours or millions of dollars in fees, he said, but an “honest, candid, trusted perspective” about a specific achievable outcome.
“They might spend 20 minutes talking to me about an issue and might not even send me a bill for it,” Mayopoulos said. “I think the profession has over time evolved to much narrower specialties where people are able to charge high hourly rates to provide deep expertise on a pretty narrowly defined set of issues, as opposed to calling someone who is just a wise person.”
During his career, Mayopoulos often turned to Walter Dellinger, the late former US Solicitor General and longtime partner at O’Melveny & Myers, who he would call on a regular basis to chat about matters on which the appellate litigator was not an expert. Mayopoulos just trusted his opinion.
“My sense is that 40 years ago, clients thought of their most sophisticated lawyers as wise people, and now they view them as experienced, knowledgeable technicians,” Mayopoulos said.
He continues to serve on the board of two other public companies, government contractor Science Applications International Corp. and online lender LendingClub Corp., in addition to Blend. Mayopoulos said he’s also advising several private companies and helping them scale their operations.
He also expects to continue working with policymakers and others to explore solutions designed to bring stability to the financial system.
“If someone approaches me about a full-time job I think is interesting, I’ll certainly entertain that possibility,” he said. “But I’m pleased with the portfolio of activities I’ve got. I like the variety of engagement, the intellectual satisfaction that comes with having a number of things I’m working on at any given time.”
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