People’s Bank Founding Board Member, Bill Jacobs, Retires From the Board after 22 years of Service.
By Jim Teece
I remember Bill’s last day on the board. We just finished our annual shareholder meeting via zoom, because of the pandemic. We went into a board session after the annual meeting and we each took turns saying something nice about Bill and thanking him for his service. It was very surreal.
I’m relatively new to the board and have only had the opportunity to get to know Bill through the board meetings, but I knew there was something more there, than the big smile and how I admired how he ran an efficient board meeting.
“Bill was part of the dream of People’s Bank before we had any employees, before we had a building, before we were authorized to start a bank by FDIC and the State. His determination and confidence got us through the last 22 years which include three recessions, including our current one. He saw the bank grow from our initial investment of $6 million to our current size of $500 million. I would say, job well done, Bill Jacobs.”— Ken Trautman, Co-Founder / CEO People’s Bank
I reached out to him afterwards and asked him if I could interview him for the journal and we chatted for over an hour via zoom.
He was born in Glendale, California in 1939 and grew up in Arcadia, California. His family relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area when he was a junior in high school as his dad worked for a public utility corporation.
After high school, Bill attended the local college, Stanford*. He was going to get a medical degree but changed his mind when he took organic chemistry and graduated instead with a degree in economics and industrial engineering. He met and married Carol in 1961 (Married 59 years in August). He also managed the Stanford Baseball team the same year. He stayed at Stanford and received his Finance MBA with a minor in Marketing and gives his wife credit for putting him through graduate school.
His family eventually relocated back to southern California as his father became CEO of Southern California Gas Company, but Bill stayed in the Bay Area to work for Ford in the Milpitas plant.
At one point during our chat, he explained how much everyone loved cars at the time and that it was just like in the movie, “Ford vs. Ferrari”. I had not watched the movie until after he told me about it, but I could imagine that Bill was one of the white dress shirt, black skinny tie, middle managers that were in many of the Ford office scenes.
Because his father worked for the same company for 44 years, Bill always thought that was what he was going to do, but he was enticed away after 5 years, from Ford and the Bay Area, by a business school friend with a position at a wholly-owned, drug store division of the Jewel Tea Company. He stayed with OSCO drug for 20 years, working his way up to executive vice president and responsible for all of the support services such as buying and distribution. Working in Illinois, he grew with them from 50 stores to over 650 stores in 26 states. The CFO reported directly to him and he managed during a time of extraordinary growth and profit. In the end, he parachuted out during a hostile takeover. That process gave Bill direct insight into the board and shareholders working through the takeover.
He landed at a small housewares startup in Southern California, with another friend from Stanford and after a year realized that he enjoyed the large company environment better.
He jumped at an opportunity to become the CFO of Pic ‘n’ Save, the second-largest retail closeout chain that grew from southern California to the South and Southwest markets before rebranding as MacFrugals and finally consolidating into Big Lots stores.
Bill worked through an internal proxy fight with institutional investors and the board and finally left the company.
He thought about retiring but somehow ended up as the CEO of another company with offices in Illinois and California that was a wholesale distributor of toys and stationery to drug stores like OSCO and Thrifty. He ran that until he wasn’t interested anymore and officially retired to Medford, Oregon.
He used to manage relationships with dealers back in his days with Ford and for a period of time, would fly to Medford and work with them and fly home late Friday. It was during this time that he fell in love with the Rogue Valley. He thought that it was also convenient as both of his children (both of which also attended Stanford) lived on the west coast and Medford was about equidistant to both of them.
Of course, his children no longer live where they lived when he moved here and he laughed as he told me that “you can’t chase your kids”
It was during this time of quiet retirement and model railroading, that he met Mike Sickels and Ken Trautman through a mutual acquaintance. They had just left Western Bank as it was acquired by Washington Mutual in 1996 and were looking to form a new kind of community bank. One that was going to be small and nimble and answer the phone with real people.
Bill became the first board member and served on the board for over 22 years. He tells stories of how in the beginning the office was in a basement and how the board members used to take turns buying breakfast during meetings at the local diner. They raised 6 million dollars of local money to start the bank. He laughed at Mike and Ken when they told him they would be in the black in 13 months. He knew from his decades of experience that it takes at least 3 years. He laughed again, this time with them, as they celebrated the first month of profitability, exactly 13 months after they started.
“In all my time on the Board, I never saw Bill without a smile on his face and a kind word to say. He did an outstanding job as Chair of the PBOC board, always ensuring that every voice was heard. His presence is already missed.”— Roy Vinyard, People’s Bank Board Chair
He became chairman of the board after Mike Sickels lost his short battle with cancer in 2016.
Now that he has retired off the board of the bank, he will spend his time on the board at the Manor.
The hour we spent together was a whirlwind of memories. I logged off the meeting with a huge smile and excitement to share his story with all of you. I wanted you to know that your path through life may wander from coast to coast, but you can be a leader in everything you do and take experiences forward to each new chapter, and bring the bundle of all of your experiences to a board, of a local business, and make an even bigger impact in life for so many.
I saw Bill again about 6 weeks after our chat, at the company gathering where we surprised the staff with the announcement that the board had selected Julia Beattie as the new president for the bank. (See Page 48 – Meet Julia Beattie – The New President of People’s Bank)
When Ken made the announcement, I looked over at Bill. He scanned the park-like setting and took in a deep breath while admiring all the people that ran the bank that he helped start and grabbed his wife’s hand and smiled.
*When I sent this story to Bill for fact checking he wanted me to know that “Stanford is more than a “local college”. The recent Wall Street Journal ranks Stanford University as the #1 University in the WORLD! It’s students come from all 50 states and a countless number of foreign countries. This may not be worth correcting, but I thought I would point that out. “
I’m going to miss working with him.
Disclosure – Southern Oregon Business Journal Publisher Jim Teece Proudly Serves on the People’s Bank Board