Bible, Thought for the day
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The banker with interest — in others


The love of money? Photo: Hourman/Foter/CC BY-NA-SA

The love of money? Photo: Hourman/Foter/CC BY-NA-SA

[by Earl Blacklock] Amadeo Pietro Giannini was an innovative banker who was responsible for most of the services we now consider part of what we can expect from our neighborhood bank.

Where other banks opened from 10 to 3 weekdays, Giannini’s Bank of Italy opened from 9 to 5 every day but Sunday. Where other banks limited their business to businesses and industry, Giannini served the middle income wage earners from convenient branches. Where other bank executives closeted themselves in expensive offices, Giannini insisted his executives be out on the floor, visible and accessible.

The bank was consistent in making a profit, even in the midst of the worst economic conditions. Only two years after starting the bank, Giannini’s biggest challenge arose with the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. He saw the challenge as an opportunity, however.

Where other banks kept their vaults closed so they would have time to sort things out, Giannini loaded $2 million into a wagon, and set up shop on the docks near San Francisco’s North Beach. He extended credit “on a face and a signature” – and was repaid for his trust by being repaid every penny. He is credited with spurring the rebuilding of the devastated city.

Giannini encouraged employees to invest in the bank through a generous profit sharing plan, and many who did so were made wealthy. In the late 1920’s, while the remainder of the U.S. economic system was spiraling downward, Giannini’s Bank of Italy was so strong that it began national and international expansion through its holding company TransAmerica Corp and a merger with the Bank of America.

Giannini would lend to industries no other bank would touch. He is credited with helping to establish the California wine industry and much of the Hollywood film industry. He bankrolled the start of United Artists. When Walt Disney went over budget on Snow White, Giannini stepped in with a $2 million loan.

In 1931 Giannini retired, but when it became clear that TransAmerica Corp’s directors were not continuing in the tradition he had set, he won a proxy fight and returned as Chairman until his death in 1949.

To this point, Giannini’s story could be one of any number of business success stories repeated throughout world and, in particular, American history. Giannini was different in one respect, however, and that difference is refreshing in the days of corporate scandal and greed. Although he could have easily been a billionaire, when he died Giannini was worth only half a million dollars. He often deferred salary, saying he already had more than any man needs. On one occasion, his directors voted him a 1.5 million dollar bonus. He promptly donated it to the University of California.

Would that there would be Christian business people today with the same ethic. Imagine what they could accomplish! Hebrews 13:5 tells us “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'”

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