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American Riviera moves on

By Barbara Pearson
Feb. 18, 2008

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After Michael Salsbury’s abrupt exit from 19-month-old, Santa Barbara-based American Riviera Bank, acting president and Chief Executive Officer David Duarte said management was not surprised and will not miss a beat.

"Mike is a visionary and an entrepreneur and he has to have projects going," Duarte told the Business Times in a Feb. 11 interview. "The day-to-day operations of a business are not his forte and the management team – myself, Laurie Leighty and Michelle Martinich – were the everyday operating officers of the bank and Mike was out being the face of the bank and he did a super job."

Duarte, formerly chief operating officer and chief credit officer, Leighty, head of operations and human resources, and Martinich, chief financial officer, make up the executive management team that supported Salsbury at American Riviera. Duarte also sits on the bank’s board of directors.

Salsbury, who resigned in late January, did not leave to pursue any specific opportunity, Duarte said. He also resigned as a board member. "…I believe I still have goals remaining in the financial world that I would like to accomplish," Salsbury said in a Jan. 30 press release.

Duarte may continue as president and CEO of the bank, or the board of directors may choose an outside candidate.

"The board has a fiduciary responsibility to go out and search and make sure they’ve got the best person for the job, and if it turns out to be me, then that’s how it’s going to be played," Duarte said, adding that he is not privy to the board’s search process. "Our board is very open with management, but this is a subject they need to keep their own counsel about."

American Riviera Bank was Salsbury’s vision, but Duarte joined him shortly after to help found the bank. "We go back quite a ways and I respect him and wish good luck to him in the future," Duarte said of Salsbury.

Duarte’s resume includes 30 years in the California banking industry. Before joining American Riviera, he was president and CEO of Hacienda Bank of Santa Maria, which was later acquired by Paso Robles-based Heritage Oaks Bank. He also sat on the board of directors for both banks.

Duarte said if he is chosen as the permanent CEO, there are no plans to replenish a fourth member to the management team.

"Everybody in community banking, especially a de novo, wears several hats, and if it’s the CEO hat I’m wearing this hour, the next hour it could be the chief credit officer hat," Duarte said. "There are not any repercussions or problems or ripples. This is how it was set up to begin with – me, Laurie and Michelle would manage the bank and Mike would be out on the street – so we’re not going to miss a beat."

Is Duarte also ready to replace Salsbury as the new face of the bank? "I will do that in my spare time after I do the windows here," he joked. "I have every intention of getting out in the community, being the face and introducing people to this great bank … If the board finds a CEO that they feel has certain attributes I may not have, then that person will be out in the community and I’ll be supporting that person just as well."

David Booker, president of American Principle Bank in San Luis Obispo, another locally owned and operated, but non-competing bank in the region, said the short-term challenge for the management team will be retaining investors who are "unsettled" because they initially joined the bank due to their relationships with Salsbury.

"I would certainly be making contacts with all the shareholders to assure them it was going to be business as usual and make sure they felt included and important customers of the bank," Booker said. Duarte said the bank plans to continue with the plan that has made it successful thus far.

With $65 million in funded loans and "several million" worth of loans in the pipeline, Duarte said the bank’s strengths are quality loans, cutting-edge technology, and product offerings such as remote capture, a scanning system that allows businesses to make deposits remotely.

"What we have that nobody else has is a true community bank founded by Santa Barbara residents," he said. "We can react quickly, we can have a loan decision to somebody within days ... all decisions are made here."

Duarte said the bank’s goals are to grow deposits and achieve profitability by the second quarter.

"Deposits … are a little tough to get these days because of the credit crunch out there, but we’re just fine with that and kind of swimming upstream with all the other adversities banks are having at this point," he said.

American Riviera opened its single branch on July 18, 2006, with 400 founding shareholders and $25 million in capital. As of Dec. 31, 2007, the bank reported total assets of $75 million.

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