This is the time of year when news organizations pick their "best photo of the year." My choice is a photo of Exchange Bank CEO Bill Schrader meeting Occupy Santa Rosa protesters who recently descended on the bank's branch in Roseland.
First, just the idea of protesting anything about Exchange Bank stretches the imagination. In a county with the highest rate of community volunteerism in the state of California, Exchange Bank is a standout, supporting a wide range of non-profit organizations. It is a stellar corporate citizen. Very few businesses of any kind or size do more for people in need.
Mr. Schrader, who openly describes himself as a child of the 1960s and the protests of that era, is deeply devoted to his community. He has led forums aimed at keeping kids out of gangs and has mentored scores of young people on leadership, to name just two of many, many examples of commitment to community. He is a trusted adviser to small, family owned businesses across Sonoma County.
The protesters' grievance with Exchange Bank was that it has suspended funding of the Doyle scholarships to Santa Rosa Junior College students, grants that are funded through the bank's stock dividend. The bank stopped paying a dividend as it suffered losses in the financial crisis, much of it related to real estate lending. On that score, Exchange Bank has lots of expert company in the banking world, none of whom predicted the epic nature of the property collapse.
The bank's position is that it fully intends to restore the Doyle funding as soon as it is financially prudent, which hopefully will be soon.
But the protesters want it restarted right away, although the irony of their argument is that restoring the Doyle too soon runs the risk of putting the entire scholarship program at risk for the long term.
Mr. Schrader has been open about the financial challenges that remain. With the economy still very uncertain, preserving capital is necessary to tide any organization through potential future bumps in the road. But no one is more committed to restoring the Doyle as soon as possible than Mr. Schrader and other leadership at Exchange Bank.
As for the protesters, many in the business community are open to having a discussion with the Occupy leaders or anyone else about creating more economic opportunity for everyone. That could be a healthy process.
When it comes to restoring the Doyle, though, Exchange Bank needs -- and deserves -- the time to do it in a way that the scholarship will be around another 100 years....
Brad Bollinger is the editor and associate publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at 707-521-4251, firstname.lastname@example.org.