February 7, 2023
You are here:  Home  >  Banking & Finance  >  Banking Industry  >  Current Article

Philanthropist, banker and developer Michael Towbes dies at 87


Michael Towbes


Updated at 10 a.m. April 14:

Michael Towbes, the tri-county region’s most prominent philanthropist, banker and real estate developer, whose influence spanned nearly six decades, died April 13. He was 87.

“He passed away early this morning, surrounded by family, in peace,” said Towbes Group President Craig Zimmerman, in an email to the Business Times.

Towbes told the Business Times in 2008: “If I am going to be remembered for anything, it will hopefully be what I did for the community in terms of serving nonprofits.”

Towbes founded Montecito Bank & Trust and The Towbes Group after he came to California as a civil engineer for the Navy at Point Mugu. In 1956, he started his first company in Los Angeles with his friend and mentor, Eli Luria. After hearing the Central Coast was becoming a hot spot for development, Towbes moved to Santa Maria and, ultimately, became a Montecito resident.

He founded Montecito Bank & Trust in 1975, but his philanthropic efforts made the biggest community impact. He created and funded The Towbes Foundation, which provides support to organizations in the area of arts, education and medical research. He was one of the driving forces behind the renovation of Santa Barbara’s Granada Theatre and served on many boards, including the Cottage Hospital Foundation, University of California, Santa Barbara Trustees and the Foundation for Santa Barbara City College.

“To me, the reason to be successful in business is to do good things with what you earned and not just accumulate the money,” the Princeton University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate once told the Business Times.

Earlier this month, Towbes announced a succession plan for his properties. He announced he was stepping down from his role as chairman of the Montecito Bank & Trust, setting the stage for a succession plan that would result in Janet Garufis as CEO and board chair, and bank executive George Leis as president. Montecito Bank & Trust is the largest independently owned bank in the region with assets of $1.3 billion. The bank has donated more than $15 million to nonprofits over the last 15 years.

MB&T recently surpassed Wells Fargo as the top lender in Santa Barbara County for small business loans of $1 million or less. As of October 2016, the bank had $50 million in loan commitments, nearly half of which were to businesses with less than $1 million in annual revenues.

The Towbes Group, a real estate investment, development and property management company, has developed more than 6,000 residential units and 1.8 million square feet of commercial properties, primarily in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties.

The company also currently manages more than 1.8 million square feet of commercial office, industrial and retail space, and approximately 2,500 residential units.

Zimmerman said the development group will remain independent.

“The Towbes Group will be run by me day to day and his daughter Carrie will join the board as chair,” Zimmerman said. “Carrie will also focus much of her time and efforts on the philanthropic efforts, including The Towbes Foundation.”

Zimmerman said that Towbes is thrilled that Garufis will “continue his legacy.”

“The bank has been in a trust for many years,” Zimmerman said. “It was transitioned into a new trust so that it could remain independent and locally owned, even after his death. Mike made this deliberate decision because he is committed to community banking, his customers, his employees and all the nonprofits the bank serves.”

The Towbes family will place canvases at all of the bank’s branches, to allow the public to write notes, condolences or share their thoughts on him.

A public memorial service will be held at The Granada Theater at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, May 23.

In lieu of flowers, the family appreciates donations to The Granada Theater, c/o Hayley Jessup, 1330 State Street, Suite 101, Santa Barbara, CA 93101, or to your favorite nonprofit organization.

• Contact Joshua Molina at jmolina@pacbiztimes.com.