July 20, 2024
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Dubroff: Spainhour, a confident banker who leaves behind a rich legacy


I first met Dave Spainhour when I stumbled into a Santa Barbara Bank & Trust Branch on Halloween in 1999, hoping to find someone to notarize a document.

The branch was decorated to the nines and amid the spiderwebs and massive amounts of candy, I met Kathy Kerstiens, who helped me get the right signatures on one of the Business Times’ earliest shareholder reports.

She looked at the name and said it sounded interesting. So I told her I was working on a new business publication for the region and she said: “I think you should meet my dad.”

Henry Dubroff
Henry Dubroff

Fast forward a few weeks and I was nervously sitting down at Birnham Wood Country Club for lunch with Dave Spainhour. He listed while I did most of the talking; he talked a bit about the bank.

And at the end of the lunch, I had a pretty good feeling that the Business Times, still just an idea, had a decent chance to succeed in an unproven market.

It was fortuitous timing. As I learned — first from Spainhour and later from many others — Santa Barbara Bank & Trust had come from fairly humble roots in the 1960s to become the dominant bank on the Central Coast.

It had a footprint that matched the tri-county region the Business Times would soon be covering and it also reached into Monterey County and beyond into Hollister and Gilroy.

Spainhour was a master of the back office operations and systems. When he first arrived, he told me the bank didn’t have account numbers — it knew its customers by name and liked it that way. But he made quiet changes and soon there was a better system.

His analytical approach was complemented by the competitive drive of Don Anderson, a Minnesota native with a Harvard MBA who had a keen eye for customers with solid growth prospects. He arrived in 1969 and the pair embarked on a remarkable transformation at what was then called Santa Barbara National Bank.

The bank had grown quite methodically, first expanding into Lompoc, Solvang and Santa Maria. In 1993, it made a bold move into Ventura County, opening three branches in one day and reaping millions of dollars in deposits.

Spainhour and Anderson then began to expand via acquisition, with Spainhour, the quiet, patient listener often being the one to contact a potential partner to understand its strengths and weaknesses. It launched a successful tax refund program that generated much of the cash for its acquisitions.

By the time I met Spainhour in late 1999, the bank was well on its way toward having 40 branches in six counties with a large acquisition in Monterey having recently been completed. It had a deep bench of talent that now populated banking c-suites and boards of directors across the region.

It offered a range of services that rivaled larger institutions — trust and investment services, an economist who did his own forecasts, internal marketing and IT functions.

It also was very focused on each of the communities it served, working closely with nonprofits and encouraging its employees to volunteer. It was among the first to discover that nonprofits were an important part of the fabric of the Central Coast community and, also, were potentially valuable customers.

He helped me learn about the United Way board, a business council at the Santa Barbara County Board of Education and he encouraged me to get involved in the UCSB Economic Forecast and Cal State Channel Islands, a new university springing up on the outskirts of Camarillo.

All have proven to be important relationships for the Business Times.

Spainhour recognized the role that Westmont College could play in educating a new generation of leaders and he helped steer the college toward adding business and entrepreneurship classes to its liberal arts curriculum.

The 1990s were a magical decade for Santa Barbara Bank & Trust and for Spainhour and his wife Carolyn, who would enjoy children, grandkids and four great-grandchildren.

After Spainhour retired as board chair the bank strayed a bit from its core philosophy — its recapitalization during the financial crisis was a bitter pill for shareholders to swallow. But that SBB&T survived at all was a testament to the values and customer relationships it built up in the Spainhour era.

His quiet confidence helped many of the region’s best bankers get their start, learn to keep their chin up when times were tough and keep investing in their communities.

That is a priceless legacy.

Henry Dubroff is the founder, owner and editor of the Pacific Coast Business Times. He can be reached at hdubroff@pacbiztimes.com.