North Bay Business Journal visited Bank of Marin’s Novato headquarters to interview Russ Colombo, the bank chief executive for more than a decade.
You have a wildlands view out of your office. See a lot of wildlife?
RUSS COLOMBO: We do. It’s great. Deer wander by all the time, occasionally turkeys and a bobcat or two. A lot of squirrels live in these trees. One time during a board meeting downstairs, this squirrel ran back and forth along a ledge then stopped, put its paws up and looked in, checking out what was going on. Everybody stopped. Was it a spy (from a competing bank)?
Bank of Marin is at $2 billion in assets. Your goal is to try to build this bank?
COLOMBO: That’s right. No question about it. Our whole philosophy is disciplined growth. As a public company, we have to continue to provide a good return to investors. We have to grow to do that, without risking our future.
That’s hard to do in the financial world?
COLOMBO: Indeed. You can get off the rails if you’re not careful. We stay within our markets, which now include five counties. We do things we know how to do, not lending that we don’t understand, keep it narrow and disciplined about how we underwrite and manage relationships.
What’s the total number of employees with all 20 branches?
COLOMBO: Just under 270 employees.
You’re still in acquisition mode since the bank acquired Bank of Alameda in 2013?
COLOMBO: Yes. We continue to look, have a number of opportunities.
That can be tricky if an acquisition target has troubled assets?
COLOMBO: It can bring you down. These things are tricky, not only financials, where you price accordingly. We have a model we use. Beyond that, there’s cultural integration, which is more difficult. You can make the numbers work, hoping to uncover any potential landmines out there. More importantly, if you don’t have cultural alignment, that makes it difficult. Alameda worked really well.
You are talking about employee culture?
COLOMBO: Yes. And discipline. We do things a certain way. If we buy a bank that’s half a billion dollars (in assets), we need to integrate them into our culture. It’s hard to meld cultures.
Banking history has some horrendous examples (such as Wells Fargo buying First Interstate, 1996)?
COLOMBO: Yes, there are a lot of them. We want to avoid those types of problems. We built a bank based on solid fundamentals over 26 years. We have to remember what we’re good at, how we do business, not do things we don’t understand. That’s where you get into trouble.
When you looked at Bank of Alameda, what aspects of its culture did you find attractive, that fit with Bank of Marin?
COLOMBO: Their commitment to the Alameda community, branches they had there, was similar to us. They had had some financial difficulties. We went in and gave back even more to the community. But their being in touch with that community, understanding how it operated, was really helpful on the branch side. We liked the branches, good deposit-gatherers, and a commercial banking office in Oakland fit into our structure.
That’s what you were after?
COLOMBO: Yes. We got both. The branches gave us core deposits, a good deposit base that fit well with us. The commercial banking office in Oakland gave us the kind of business we do.