The Tri-Counties lost two formerly prominent CEOs in November.
A. A. “Bud” Milligan, the longtime leader of the Bank of A. Levy, the largest community bank in Ventura County until it was sold to First Interstate Bank in 1994, died on Nov. 3 in Santa Barbara. He was 94.
Chris Edgecomb, co-founder and CEO of Santa Barbara-based Star Telecom, a tech company whose spectacular rise as one of the region’s largest public firms ended in its bankruptcy during the dot-com crash, died Nov. 7. He was 52.
Here is a closer look at each CEO’s life in business.
From 1955 until 1982, Bud Milligan served as CEO of the Bank of A. Levy, the community bank that grew along with Ventura County from agricultural roots to regional prominence before its sale to First Interstate Bank for about $87 million in 1994. The bank was founded in the 1890s by Achille Levy, a crop-broker-turned-banker who took in his first deposit from Charles J. Daily, of the namesake family of Daily Drive in Camarillo, in 1885.
Over the decades, the bank’s board included some of Ventura County’s most prominent community figures, such as Adolfo Camarillo and Ben Nordman, and built a reputation for viewing the fate of the county’s economy and inhabitants and the bank’s success as intertwined. Milligan upheld that tradition and influenced the way business is done in the county to this day, said several community bankers in the region who worked under him early on in their careers.
“Mr. Milligan, in particular, was a hero of mine,” said Sue Chadwick, who oversees Santa Barbara Bank & Trusts’s operations in Ventura County. “He was a man of integrity. He was wonderful with clients – clients came first for him. He made sure they were taken care of. He was a role model of being involved in the community.”
“Bud Milligan was just an incredible leader and banker and part of the community. He knew everybody in the community. It was really impressive when he would go out to the branches – he knew everybody within the bank by first name, and most of the customers that came in,” said Jeff Paul, executive vice president of community banking at Rabobank. “He was a great combination of very principled, very high-integrity, yet with a lot of common sense and a lot of energy.”
In addition to taking part in numerous community groups and founding Ventura County’s first Community Chest – a precursor to United Way in the county – Milligan was also president of the American Banker’s Association, where he served on Jimmy Carter’s inflation task force and lambasted the slipshod banking practices of Bert Lance, the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Milligan came from a different era of banking, one in which bankers never gambled with depositors’ money and in which he could look a customer in the eye and decide whether to make a loan, rather than consulting charts and tables. In 1982, on the day he turned 65, he handed over power his sons Marshall and Michael, who guided the bank through the industry changes of the 1980s and 1990s.
“We would have a loan request come from a branch to the loan committee, and my father would say, ‘Who knows them?’ You can’t do that any more and stay up with the growth of the business,” said Marshall Milligan. “We all, as an organization, had to understand how to interview and get comfortable with customers much more readily than in the past.”
Bud Milligan was well known for arguing that consumers should have only one credit card and was weary of the overuse of consumer credit. His son Marshall said Bud Milligan would have been happy to hear the snip-snip of credit cards being cut up after the recent finical crisis. “He would have understood we were overspending our incomes as a country and as individuals. He would have been happy to see the country de-leveraging at this point — he would say that it’s a wise response to the mess we’ve gotten into.”
Born in 1917, Bud Milligan is survived by his son Michael and his wife, Jeanne, of Bainbridge Island, Wash.; his son Marshall and his wife, Gretchen, of Santa Barbara; and his three granddaughters, Kimberley Milligan of Nevada City, Lucy Milligan Wahl of San Francisco, and Claire Milligan, also of San Francisco.
Chris Edgecomb led Star Telecom’s spectacular rise from $67 million in revenue in 1995 to more than $1 billion in 1999 — before it crashed as the dot-com bubble burst. With Star, Edgecomb pioneered methods of sending long-distance phone calls as data – called voice-over-Internet-protocol, or VoIP — that proved more cost-effective than the methods used by traditional telecommunications carriers.
At its peak, Star Telecom had 855 employees.
Edgecomb grabbed national attention in 1999 with a $7 million wedding to entertainment executive Maryann Antell. Jay Leno was the master of ceremonies at the reception, and Rod Stewart and David Crosby, among others, provided the music.
Star Telecom’s fall was nearly as swift as its rise. Faced with shrinking margins as competitors piled into the telecommunications space, Star Telecom began searching for capital in 1999.
It first considered the bond markets before ultimately settling on a merger with World Access, another telecommunications firm.
By January of 2001, the deal had fallen through. Edgecomb resigned as CEO. Star Telecom filed for bankruptcy two months later and was eventually liquidated.
After Star Telecom imploded, Edgecomb settled into a quieter life in Santa Barbara. He invested in several real estate ventures and founded and ran Star Power Generators, a generator rental company that served the Southern California film and event industries.
He remained active in the telecommunications industry through Sirius Telecom, which provides a software-based switching technology for international carriers to do business outside their home networks.
“I’d prefer my tombstone say I was a motivator and collector of talented people,” Edgecomb said in a prepared statement released by Sirius after his death. “It’s really about the team assembled; then, a coach or CEO can step in and guide the process, but without the team, I’ve never seen a coach score a touchdown against an opposing squad of linebackers.”
Edgecomb’s philanthropic activities included donations to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, Dream Foundation, Santa Barbara Fire Fighters Alliance, Santa Barbara Bowl, Cottage Hospital, House Ear Institute,
The Maximum Hope Foundation, The Michael J. Fox Foundation, SPARKLE and others. Born in 1959 in Hollywood to Glenn and Sannie Edgecomb, Chris Edgecomb later attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
He is survived by his wife, Maryann; his daughter, Sydney; his mother, Sannie and sisters Laurel Edgecomb and TC Edgecomb.