Sterling National Bank's CEO John Millman: Q&A

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - John Millman, the president and CEO of Sterling National Bank -- the main subsidiary of Sterling Bancorp ( STL) of New York -- told TheStreet in an exclusive interview Tuesday that the bank was uniquely positioned to grow its earnings and market share amid a resurgence for small and medium-sized businesses in the bank's market area.

After reporting a 71% increase in first-quarter earnings on Tuesday,Sterling Bancorp on Wednesday announced approval from the U.S. Treasury to redeem fully redeem $42 million in preferred stock held by the government for bailout funds received through the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, in December 2008.
Sterling National Bank president and CEO John Millman

Sterling National Bank has a unique business model as a community bank operating in New York City, with experience in providing sophisticated services, including asset-based lending, trade financing and factoring, going back to the 1930's. The bank's small and medium-sized business customers are concentrated in service providers, including staffing services, physician groups, law firms, and other service-related companies.

In an interview with TheStreet following the first-quarter earnings report, Millman was very confident in New York's economic prospects.

TheStreet: How is the lending environment evolving in the city?

John Millman: We feel really good about what we're seeing in the marketplace. It's an enormous market and we have relatively small market share, so we believe with the capital we have raised over $100 million strong liquidity and very good asset quality, there is an enormous opportunity in this market right now. Numerous business have been disenfranchised by other lenders, because a hiccup in their business.

We are a business bank focusing on customers borrowing between $500,000 and $20 million.

TheStreet: Are your customers in the temporary staffing business reporting signs of improvement in their prospects?

Millman: Yes, very substantially. It has been a bellweather industry for us. We have always found that staffing turns down at the very earliest states of a recession and begins to tick up sooner than other indicators. What happens is that folks who see volume pick up will first commit to temporary staffing.

TheStreet: Why are you drawing down the lease business?

Millman: We have been in it for about 40 years. Unlike our lending, which is focused in New York, our leasing business is a small ticker, national business. When the recession hit, the leasing business showed a dramatic pickup in delinquencies.

It was not a core business for us. We have planned on a runoff, and we are redeploying the cash off that business in core loans in our core banking area.

We had to weigh it against the enormous opportunities in the NYC market area.

TheStreet: Can strong corporate earnings be enough to offset fears about U.S. fiscal policy and the rush into gold?

Millman: I would say that from our perspective, our clients are not fearful at all. They are entrepreneurial business owners. People with the courage to start businesses are optimists by nature. Our clients are quite optimistic about their future, the future of the economy and see lot of opportunities.

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-- Written by Philip van Doorn in Jupiter, Fla.

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Philip W. van Doorn is a member of TheStreet's banking and finance team, commenting on industry and regulatory trends. He previously served as the senior analyst for TheStreet.com Ratings, responsible for assigning financial strength ratings to banks and savings and loan institutions. Mr. van Doorn previously served as a loan operations officer at Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, Fla., and as a credit analyst at the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, where he monitored banks in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico. Mr. van Doorn has additional experience in the mutual fund and computer software industries. He holds a bachelor of science in business administration from Long Island University.

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