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Quotable Notables:  EXTRA! Inspiration

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Stardust Inspiration: Charles Chrietzberg Jr. knows about rejection. At age 14, he was fired from his first job as a waiter because a diner accused him of looking up her skirts. “I was a bitty kid,” he said, with his defining Texan drawl. “I was under the table polishing, and these people sat down, and a woman kicked me.” But like the many admirable subjects in this book, he didn’t let it get him down. Rather, he dusted himself off, gathered his self esteem and went on to own a mortgage company that became the third largest mortgage originator in Houston. And while retirement is not in his lexicon, after he moved to the Monterey Peninsula he became CEO of Monterey County Bank, one of the most creative and user-friendly banks on the planet. Three more branches later, this playful pioneer and movie buff transformed the defunct Village Theatre in Carmel-by-the-Sea. There are no neon lights, but the teacup-sized branch features three teller windows, walls of signed movie posters, four movie seats, Clint Eastwood and Doris Day movies - shown continuously on a 42-inch DVD flat screen - candy and a popcorn machine.

This open-minded banker has launched the creative ideas of many entrepreneurs. And his service to the community is equally inspirational.

Charles Chrietzberg Jr.: a Banker like no other

You’ll think you’re walking into FAO Schwarz when you walk into Charles Chrietzberg Jr.’s office at Monterey County Bank. He immediately cranks up: a crocodile that shimmies and sings “Crocodile Walk”; a mounted singing bass fish; and a gorilla doing the Macarena.

The big, overgrown kid does a reasonable rendition of Tom Hanks for anyone who’ll watch. He just loves his toys. It’s not a scene you’re likely to see in any other bank CEO’s office.

Nor will you see another executive pose as Toulouse-Lautrec, Uncle Sam or The Lone Ranger, as he does, in his recent “The Art of Banking” ad campaign.

“Dan Koffman (his ad agent) said to pose as Rodin’s thinker and put on cowboy boots, but my wife and daughter don’t want it,” Chrietzberg said. “I’ve had my face in a butterfly, but got a lot of flak for that. I firmly believe in advertising. Most banks don’t.”

He swaggers around the room in his cowboy boots and star shaped golden belt buckle, which he got as a member of the Monterey County Sheriffs Advisory Council, and points out his awesome collection of Western art. “I’m a CPA, but not a typical type,” he says.

Q: “Life has more imagination than we carry in our dreams” – Christopher Columbus. Does this ring your chimes?
A: I think you get out of life what you put into life. If you work hard it pays off. What you can do with your imagination is unlimited.

Q: About your new ad campaign - have you no shame?
A: (Laughs) Good question! I tell you, Dan Koffman came to me with a whole year’s campaign. It was his idea. My concern was this is a real art community.

Q: In what ways are you eccentric?
A: I have a lot of eccentricities. One thing that bothers especially my wife is that I don’t like people talking in movie theaters. I’ll ask them to be quiet. Also, I don’t like people parking in our lot. I’m a Virgo. I do believe in the astrology of that. When we have a party at our house, I check everything.

Q: A little background?
A: I’m 58. I was born in Mineola, Texas. Dad worked for the railroad. Mom was athletic. I played lots of cowboys and Indians. I always rode horses in Texas. Fury threw me the first time I got on him. I graduated with a B.A. major in accounting college. My wife Sandra and I were in our teens when we married.

Q: What is your motto?
A: I believe in “work hard and play hard.” I’ve always been able to take things with a grain of salt. I operate well in adversity when everyone around is having heart attacks.

Q: In what ways are you very much a banker?
A: I love making loans and helping somebody start a business.

Q: A particularly satisfying loan?
A: One we just made to a local guy who had polio as a child. He’s been disadvantaged, but he has an unbelievably brilliant mind. We got his loan to publish “Walk This Way.”

Q: How did you found the bank?
A: I got involved in ‘85 as an investor. It was first formed in ’79 by a group of local doctors and attorneys and Peter Coniglio. I saw the bank needed more capital, so I put more money in. I became chairman and CEO April ’87. Then I came out of retirement and went to work full time. I had owned a mortgage company in Texas, the third largest mortgage originator in Houston.

Q: One of your best investments?
A: Buying a home out here, in ’82.

Q: Do you gamble?
A: I never gamble with other people’s money. I don’t go to Vegas. If I have any gambling tendencies, it’s the stock market. But I like to call that investing.

Q: What’s the riskiest thing you’ve ever done?
A: Going into the wine business. We had a lot of fun. I put $1.5 million in and I lost everything I put into it except meals and travel.

Q: What’s been your greatest success?
A: My children. My son works for the same CPA firm I worked for in Houston. He’s the senior manager. My daughter is the accounting manager for the DoubleTree Hotel.

Q: Greatest failure?
A: My involvement with the Monterey Film Festival. Our winery was a major sponsor in ’87. It was sad to not really see it be a success.

Q: How are you native Texans different from us Californians?
A: Texans tend to say it like it is. Basically, you either like me or you don’t. You know where you stand with a Texan . . . You’re a lot more likely in Texas to get the hell beat out of you than here. Once, I was going into a nightclub and asked a parking question, and the guy busted my nose.

Q: What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve ever done?
A: I bought a Rolls Royce. It’s gone now . . . I’ve got a Jag.

Q: Most important person you’ve ever met?
A: Probably Senator Henry Mello - and everything he did to get Ft. Ord to the point it is now, and its economic vitality.

Q: What’s something about banking that most people don’t know?
A: Most people don’t understand that bankers are real people. They put their pants on and shoes on one at a time like most people. Lots of people are intimidated. I try to alleviate that by meeting clients with “Big Mouth Bill Bass.”

Q: I’m told you’re a generous man. How so?
A: I believe life’s been good to me and to help out the less fortunate. The best way I can do that is by being a successful business and contribute to the community. I’m involved in Meals on Wheels, Carmel Rotary, Alliance on Aging, American Cancer Society, etc..

Q: Your first job?
A: I’ll never forget. Washing dishes in a café at 14 years old.

Q: Ever been fired?
A: I got fired from it. It was slow, so they wanted me to polish tables. I was a bitty kid. I was under the table polishing, and these people sat down, and a woman kicked me. She thought I was looking under her dress.

Q: What legacy do you wish to leave behind you?
A: I would hope, particularly on the Monterey Peninsula, people would say I really contributed. Really made a difference in some way.

Universal Update: Since I did this interview, I have learned more about the quixotic Charles Chrietzberg Jr. Such as, he admits that much of his creative banking stems from being a frustrated actor. For his local rotary club, he’s played everyone from Judge Ito to Norman Bates’ mother in “Psycho.” “I’m getting typecast,” he says, laughing. “I’ve got four women’s outfits in my closet.”

 

 

 

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