The gig: Chong Guk "C.G." Kum is president and chief executive of Hanmi Financial Corp., the oldest bank based in L.A.'s Koreatown. Nearly 10% of Hanmi's loans were delinquent in 2010. But the bank has cut that to 1%, raised capital and in June it hired Kum, a veteran of mainstream community banks, to chart a course for growth. The mission, he says, is "to make Hanmi what it used to be: the premier Korean American bank."
First big deal: The bank entered into an agreement last month to buy Central Bancorp, a troubled Texas bank with Asian American clients.
Personal: Kum (rhymes with "room") left Korea in 1963, when his father became a University of Michigan professor. He earned a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley, an MBA from Pepperdine and a degree from the Stonier Graduate School of Banking. He and his wife, Vikki, whom he met on a coed bank softball team, have two children in graduate school and one still at home in Calabasas. His hobbies include golf, tennis and running. A former board president of the Community Bankers of California, he has served on many nonprofit boards, including the United Way, Boy Scouts and Casa Pacifica Centers for at-risk youth.
Early misstep: Kum studied neurobiology at UC Berkeley, intending to follow his father into academia. "When I finally told him I was not cut out for it, he said: 'I was wondering when you would figure that out.'" He found his calling in 1977 as a corporate lending trainee at Bank of California, now part of Union Bank. "I wound up the only Asian corporate loan officer in downtown San Francisco. Asians at that time were either in operations or international banking. It was a different time."
Unlikely break: When Kum was assigned to handle workouts on distressed loans at United Banks of Colorado in the 1980s, "It was not considered a sexy or glamorous job." But the experience led to a stint as chief credit officer at a troubled bank in Santa Barbara, where a successful turnaround resulted in Kum becoming CEO of Camarillo Community Bank. Kum built the bank's assets from $100 million to $2 billion, changed its name to First California Bank, moved its head office to Westlake Village and acquired three failed banks in deals with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
Toughest deal: Kum negotiated a deal to sell First California to L.A.'s Pacific Western Bank this year. "Mergers and acquisitions sound real sexy, but at the end of the day they impact people. I knew that a high percentage of the people I had hired, worked beside, mentored, were going to lose their jobs. I had gotten to know their families on picnics and employee outings. As a little bit of silver lining, I am happy to note that all my senior people were able to land on their feet after the deal. These were all people in demand at other organizations."
Key lesson: Kum focuses on recruiting and retaining quality people who work well with others. "Your employees at the end of the day labor long hours to make guys like me look successful. So at Hanmi we have brought over a lady named Bonnie Lee from BBCN," currently the largest Korean American bank. With Lee as chief operating officer, "we can merge the two cultures — me from mainstream banking, and she from the Korean American side."
Immediate challenge: "I'm at the base level in terms of the Korean language. I'm working on it, taking lessons, but it is a bit of an impediment when I'm dealing with clients who are more comfortable speaking Korean. My father thought the future for his family was in the United States, and he said you're going to speak English at home — you have to catch up. In retrospect I wish I had a little more balanced upbringing, but back in those days there just weren't that many Koreans around. When I started at UC Berkeley there were probably less than 10 Korean Americans in the entering class."
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