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Garufis: Reflections on leadership

By   /   Friday, March 20th, 2020  /   Comments Off on Garufis: Reflections on leadership

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By Janet Garufis

This week, Pacific Coast Business Times is celebrating 20 years in business.

When most newspapers are facing existential moments, the PCBT thrives, bringing the business community essential news and reporting for the Central Coast. Congratulations to Henry and Linda and the team on your success.

And on March 17, Montecito Bank & Trust also celebrated a special anniversary — 45 years in business. Our founders could never have imagined we would be celebrating 45 years as the largest, oldest, locally owned and managed community bank on the Central Coast. It’s a major accomplishment in the banking industry. Nor could they have foreseen the impacts of recent current events. In just a few short weeks, our world has been turned inside out. Financial markets are in chaos, responding to every new bit of news.

Coronavirus testing has only just begun in the region; soon we will come to know the extent of infections in our community. Our friends and neighbors are panic buying in every grocery store. Schools are in recess. Bars and restaurants are facing closures. Community and nonprofit events have been canceled or postponed.

We had hoped for a day of celebration on March 17, a 23-year tradition, honoring 11 nonprofit organizations with Anniversary Grants, welcoming customers into our branches with thanks for their loyal patronage, and specially thanking the many charter customers who have been with us since our first days in a trailer on Coast Village Road.

But more than a week ago, when the crisis seemed imminent, our management team made the tough decisions to postpone the celebration, to send everyone home who could work remotely and, most difficult of all, to close branch lobbies, serving our customers at walk ups and drive-ups instead.

We chose to do these things to protect our associates, our customers and our community. It was the right thing to do.

Over the last few days, I have also been participating in virtual meetings with several nonprofit organizations who are wrestling with the same kinds of choices we’ve made at MB&T. The choices are all about what is in the best interest of the organizations’ people and the community.

It is always about the greater good. And now, the greater good means not being together — social distancing and isolating at home. That’s a tough thing for a community whose business and social fabric is woven from interactions in community events and nonprofit fundraisers. We are huggers. We don’t do social distancing. This is really hard. We are so privileged to live in a community that understands we are better together, we are stronger when we focus on solutions for the greatest number of our citizens. And in this unprecedented case, we are better isolating — at least for now. Thank god for technology and conference calls!

Because I am over 65, I am isolating at home, even though I would rather be, and feel I should be, in the office. I am leading remotely with nothing but my instincts to guide me. I am, we are, in uncharted territory here.
But I have found that the distance brings me clarity. I am extraordinarily productive. And I communicate regularly with the team; not necessarily about what they should do, because they know what they should do. They got this.

I communicate about my pride in their commitment and dedication to doing whatever it takes to serve our customers, our community and each other during these very trying times. I thank them for doing the right thing every day.

I realize that when we say it takes a village, it means it takes each person doing what they know to do and are committed to do even when no one is watching.

Our co-founder and my predecessor, the late Mike Towbes, would be so proud of the legacy he created, of the space he made for us to continue to do what he hoped his bank would always do: make the communities we serve the best places to live and work.

Janet Garufis is the chairman and CEO of Montecito Bank & Trust.

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