Debbie Fakalata

Executive vice president and chief operating officer, First Community Bank, 438 First St., Santa Rosa, 95401; 707-636-9000; fcbconnect.com

Age: 54

Residence: Santa Rosa

Professional background: Finance/CFO/COO

Education: California State University Sacramento

Staff: I currently have 13 direct reports and 53 employees reporting under me.

company: I have been a Community Bank COO & CFO for the majority of my career. While I enjoy overseeing finance, budgets, operations, branches, HR and I.T., my passion is working with and mentoring others to help them to be successful in their jobs. In 2004, I was approached with the unique opportunity be a part of a new start-up, First Community Bank. Many of the people that I hired to be a part of the founding team are still happily working at the bank and have progressed in their careers. The success of First Community Bank is largely due to these people and many others who have joined us since, making sure we deliver the best service possible to our clients. It’s a great bank.

Is there a major accomplishment in the past year or so that you would like to share?: The bank experienced an extended period of time where the CEO was unable to fulfill her duties. I assumed the interim role and, together with the other two executive officers, was able to keep the bank running smoothly and keep directors informed while handling some tough issues during challenging economic times.

What is the achievement you are most proud of?: Being able to build and maintain a successful career with no regrets. My husband passed away when my two children were under the age of 9 and I was grateful that I was established in a career with the ability to financially, physically and emotionally support my family. 

What is your biggest challenge today?: From a professional standpoint, it would be preparing now for a future change in the interest rate environment. From a personal perspective, it would be having a teenage daughter who will be getting her driver’s license this summer! (Much tougher!)

Words that best describe you: Committed, hardworking, caring, can-do person, good sense of humor and good listener

As a successful female professional, what were the biggest obstacles you faced and how did you overcome them?: My first boss was very “old school” and backwards in his thinking about women in business. Many things I let slide, some things I faced head on – but regardless, I remained professional and did my job for 19 years. Several years after leaving, I was told by a director of that bank that my ex-boss told the board that the biggest mistake he had made in his career was not fighting harder to have me stay when I gave notice of my departure.  

How do you think your profession will change in the next five years?: In banking, we need to keep the clients’ needs first and our staff needs to be knowledgeable, professional and friendly. That will never change. I believe we will need to be more innovative in employing technology through products and services to attract the younger demographic. They won’t be as concerned about having their own personal banker and favorite branch. Their banking will be on their phones or some other electronic device not yet invented.

[caption id="attachment_75544" align="alignleft" width="180"] Debbie Fakalata[/caption]

Who was your most important mentor?: As odd as it may seem, since she didn’t work outside the home since I was born, my most important mentor would have to be my mom. Prior to becoming a mom, she worked hard to put herself through college, obtain a degree and work in the radiology field. This was all from a humble beginning as a child of farmers in Santa Rosa.

Her mantra to me was always, "Don’t say, 'I can't' ... say, 'I’ll try.'" It stays with me to this day, helping me to stretch and progress.

What advice would you give to a young woman entering your profession or the work world today?: Probably, the same thing that my mom taught me, "Don’t say, 'I can't' ... say, 'I’ll try.'" I think we limit ourselves when we prejudge what we can and can’t do.

You never know until you try and although you might not ultimately succeed at everything, it’s a great learning experience in the meantime.

Those looking at young women and their advancement potential will value an individual with a “can-do” attitude. 

Most admired businessperson outside your organization: Sue Cordonnier, partner with Crowe Horwath LLP (previously Perry-Smith LLP). Sue has been the CPA partner for every bank in which I’ve worked until recently when she retired. She has been there supporting me through every step of my career which has been my blessing. She is an extremely intelligent woman, who knows her profession well however will approach every client and every situation in a humble, friendly manner. I learned so much from her and have respected her way of handling business and the business world. 

Current reading: The Best Advice I Ever Got – Katie Couric

Most want to meet: Might seem trite, but probably Oprah. She’s done so much for young women in Third World countries to be able to receive educations they would not have otherwise received. She’s also talked to many successful, motivational people and must have a wealth of great advice stored in her brain.  

Stress relievers: Playing piano or listening to Hawaiian music

Favorite hobbies: Hanging out with my kids while they still want to hang out with me.