C.G. Kum likes to do things a little differently. His name says it all. His initials represent a hard-to-pronounce Korean name Chong-Guk followed by an unusual Korean last name. It's difficult to place his ethnicity just by looking at his business card and that's how he likes it. He heads First California Financial Group, which owns a commercial bank that serves small to midsize companies, where most of his clients and 220 employees do not share his ethnic background. Kum immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960s, and grew up playing baseball in Ann Arbor, Mich., where his father was a University of Michigan research professor. "We did things that were mainstream Americana even though we weren't," Kum said. "We were too young to understand that we weren't." When he started his career as a banker in San Francisco in the 1970s, he said that he was the only Asian-American in the financial district. The ambitious and meticulous young banker set a goal for every decade of his life. Next to the 40s column: CEO. He was appointed chief executive of First California's predecessor, Camarillo Community Bank, in 1999 at 45. Under his leadership, the bank grew from total assets of $100 million and two branches to $1.2 billion and 12 branches, after two mergers and acquisitions. Kum and his wife, Vikki, would have been empty-nesters if not for their "caboose," 9-year-old Anni. Kum said his favorite time of the year is when their son, Brian, 24, takes time off his job on the East Coast for a visit, and Courtney, 21, returns home in the summer months from college, and the house is bustling again.
Question: When you were a child, is this what you envisioned you'd be doing when you grew up?
Answer: No. Being the oldest son, I felt I should follow my father into the health sciences. He was an M.D. and had a Ph.D. in biochemistry. So I have an undergraduate degree in neurobiology. But I realized after spending some time in the lab that I am very squeamish about smell and I knew I wouldn't survive in the sciences. I talked to my father about it and he said, "I was wondering when you'd talk to me about this, because I didn't think you were cut out for it anyway." With some luck and happenstance, I ended up at a summer job at a bank branch in college and some people there took a liking to me and recommended me to a junior program for corporate lenders. I've been in banking since then.
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