Margaret Thatcher, Richard Branson - and Vernon Hill

Vernon Hill (red tie) and his wife and collaborator, Shirley Hill (right), with Lord Norman Lamont, former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Mark Littleton, managing director of London's Institute of Economic Affairs.

Vernon Hill, the Moorestown mansion resident who founded the former Commerce Bank and now runs Metro Bank in Britain, was honored at his London headquarters last night by a panel of economists, businessmen, UK Parliament members and journalists with the Institute of Economic Affairs' Free Enterprise Award.

"They said I'm the first American to win it," Hill told me. Past recipients include Reagan-like UK Prime MInister Margaret Thatcher, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Airways and all those other Virgin brands, and, more recently, City AM newspaper editor Allister Heath, anti-debt filmmaker Martin Durkin, "Health of Nations" co-authors and private-healthcare advocates Madsen Pirie and Eamonn Butler, and climate-change skeptic Lord Lawson of Blaby. Hill called the award "a validation. They've accepted our model here. We've become very high-profile."

Hill, who gleefully disrespects larger banks as he raises cash to open big sunlit customer-friendly Metro branches on Britain's aging High Streets, much as his Commerce Bank (now part of TD) did along the East Coast, "embodies free market enterprise" and a "breath of fresh air in the UK landscape," and Hill's "energy and drive" are "improving people's lives," gushed Mark Littlewood, IGA's director-general, in a statement.

Metro opens its 19th branch this weekend and plans a total of 25 by year's end. Though assets now top $1.5 billion, "we're still losing money" with all those new-branch costs -- and still planning "to do an IPO next spring," Hill added.

Besides his British bank, Hill is an investor in Philadelphia-based Republic Bank and Harrisburg-based Metro Bank, both of which have adopted the former Commerce (and current Metro UK) business model.