Though he’s a physicist by training, banking caught Dunson Cheng’s eye when he saw the impact it could have on Chinese emigrants in Los Angeles.

Dunson K. Cheng, 70

Title: Chairman and Chief Executive of Cathay General Bancorp; Chairman and Chief Executive of Cathay Bank

Bank: Cathay Bank

Rank, Local Deposit Market Share*: 13, 1.48 percent

Years in L.A. area: more than 35 years

*As of Oct. 30, 2015

Born in Vietnam, his family moved back to Hong Kong when he was very young and raised him there.

Cheng came to the United States in 1963 to study applied mathematics and physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, ultimately getting his doctorate in physics from the State University of New York, Stony Brook, in 1971.

After doing a couple of years of postdoctoral work at the University of Oregon, Cheng left for Xerox Computer Services and later Xerox Corp. in El Segundo, working with a group that was designing microprocessors for copying machines.

Meanwhile, Cheng’s family moved from Hong Kong to Los Angeles – his parents started developing properties and his brother opened a restaurant.

At the time, Cheng said, Cathay Bank and a Bank of America branch were the only two lenders in Chinatown. His family was trying to find a development loan for a Chinatown property and they went with Cathay because Bank of America did not know Chinatown well and was hesitant to loan funds to local people with whom they were unfamiliar. That was the moment Cheng realized the vital role banking played within the Chinese-American community.

Cheng got to know Cathay’s then president, George Ching, very well, becoming his assistant. Cheng was elected to the bank’s board in 1982. And when Ching stepped down in 1985, Cheng replaced him.

Though Cheng had no formal banking training, he said he’s been able to succeed thanks to Ching’s mentorship, watching experienced bankers at Cathay and on-the-job training.

Question: How have your bank’s clients and their needs changed since the bank was founded in the 1960s?

Answer: In the 1960s, auto loans were the main thing for the bank. We have customers from back into the 1960s that still bank at the bank and say, “Oh, the first loan I got with the bank was a car loan.”

And then the second thing of course is home loans. But there were not that many home loans because the community was very poor at that point in time.

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