Warner Norcross + Judd LLP partner Jeffrey A. Ott has been recognized by MiBiz as Dealmaker of the Year in the adviser category for his role in four financial service transactions, which includes a ChoiceOne Financial Services merger that has earned the publication’s Deal of the Year award in the finance/banking category.
Ott and ChoiceOne are among 13 winners in categories recognizing West Michigan’s top deals and dealmakers. The annual competition is presented by MiBiz in partnership with the Association of Corporate Growth West Michigan. Winners are determined based on best practices and excellence related to mergers, acquisitions and dealmaking, with senior executives, attorneys and advisers serving as judges.
Ott’s nomination reads in part: “You’d be hard-pressed to find a transaction attorney who has completed more deals in financial services over the past 18 months. Many of these announcements and closings overlapped one another, meaning Jeff was often running multiple deal teams and transactions simultaneously. Additionally, changes in accounting rules in response to the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for acquiring banks to evaluate loan portfolios.
“Jeff enjoys a reputation of being honest and fair, yet tough, when it comes to negotiating deals. His focus is always on getting the deal done effectively and efficiently consistent with client goals, not earning ‘negotiating points.’”
The ChoiceOne Financial Services transaction, which Ott co-led with Warner partner Charlie Goode, was a merger of equals that doubled its size in terms of assets and branches and diversified its markets. The merger brought together Sparta-based ChoiceOne, the parent company of ChoiceOne Bank, with Lapeer-based County Bank Corp., the parent company of Lakestone Bank & Trust, to create a bank holding company with approximately $1.3 billion in assets, making it the 12th-largest bank holding company in Michigan based on asset size.
The transaction – valued at approximately $89 million in the aggregate – enabled ChoiceOne, which at the time was located in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Newaygo counties, to expand into Southeast Michigan with the addition of Lakestone Bank & Trust’s branches in Lapeer, Macomb and St. Clair counties.
Three months later, ChoiceOne Financial Services acquired Community Shores Bank Corporation, the parent company of Community Shores Bank. The $21.5 million cash and stock transaction added four additional offices to ChoiceOne, giving it a stronger foothold in the Muskegon market. It also was one of the few bank mergers to close in Michigan in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The other two financial service transactions in 2019-2020 that earned Ott Dealmaker of the Year were:
Keweenaw Financial Corp.’s acquisition of North Star Financial Holdings, Inc. and its subsidiary, Main Street Bank. Keweenaw is the parent company of Superior National Bank and Trust. The $42 million all-cash transaction enabled Upper Peninsula-based Superior National Bank and Southeast Michigan-based Main Street Bank to combine resources for an enhanced customer banking experience, greater mortgage options, augmented financial services and a larger lending capacity. The combined organization boasts more than $800 million in assets, encompassing 11 bank branches and four loan origination offices. The long-term impact is smart, measured growth for the organization.
Sturgis Bancorp, Inc., the parent holding company of Sturgis Bank & Trust Company, which completed a private placement of $15 million aggregate principal amount of its 5% fixed-to-floating rate subordinated notes. Sturgis Bank intends to use the net proceeds to finance organic growth and investments for regulatory capital and other general corporate purposes. Specifically, it plans to support important strategic growth initiatives and enhance its service to customers, markets and communities in a way that cost-effectively increases capital levels without diluting existing shareholders.
As lead attorney on these transactions, Ott served as quarterback for each deal, helping to negotiate the transaction and prepare the merger agreement and supporting documents, preparing securities registration statements and disclosure documents, providing due diligence, coordinating and preparing regulatory applications for approval and resolving issues that arose along the way, among many other duties.
A member of Warner’s Business and Corporate Services and Financial Services practice groups, Ott has represented businesses and financial institutions for more than 30 years, leading or working on more than 100 transactions. He is a two-time finalist for Dealmaker of the Year – in 2015 for six financial service transactions that were collectively valued at $350 million and in 2017 for the $1.7 billion merger of Chemical Financial Corp. with Talmer Bancorp.
Ott focuses his practice on mergers and acquisitions, compliance with securities laws and general corporate and business matters. He specializes in counseling publicly traded companies on strategic and compliance issues under federal and state securities laws. Additionally, he serves as the chair of the firm’s Reporting Companies and Registered Offerings Group.
By providing discerning and proactive legal advice, Warner Norcross + Judd builds a better partnership with its clients. Warner is a corporate law firm with 230 attorneys practicing in eight offices throughout Michigan: Grand Rapids, Southfield (Detroit 2021), Midland, Macomb County, Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Lansing and Holland. To learn more, visit www.wnj.com, follow us on Twitter @WNJLLP or connect on LinkedIn or Facebook.
ChoiceOne Financial Services, Inc. is a financial holding company headquartered in Sparta, Michigan, and the parent corporation of ChoiceOne Bank, Member FDIC. ChoiceOne Bank operates 33 offices in parts of Kent, Lapeer, Macomb, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ottawa and St. Clair counties. ChoiceOne Bank offers insurance and investment products through its subsidiary, ChoiceOne Insurance Agencies, Inc. For more information, please visit Investor Relations at ChoiceOne’s website at choiceone.com.
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