Those who knew Citizens Business Bank CEO/President Chris Myers growing up here might remember him as the smart, strapping young All-CIF cornerback who helped guide La Cañada High School to a 1979 CIF football championship, the only Spartan team ever to earn that crowning achievement.
And although Myers, 57, has achieved a lot since then, including playing football for Harvard and thriving for more than 35 years in the banking industry — including more than 13 years as CEO and president of Citizens Business Bank, which Forbes named No. 1 in California in 2019 — he still recalls his senior season in high school football as one of his proudest times.
“I still consider that as one of my greatest accomplishments ever, being a part of that team,” said Myers, who frequently visits La Cañada Flintridge to see former classmates and lifelong friends, as well as check on some of the local businesses his bank has financed over the years.
Myers took a lot of life lessons from football and incorporated them into the banking industry — perhaps not a typical conversion, he acknowledged, but then Myers doesn’t really fit the typical banker mold. Outgoing and impassioned, with self-deprecating humor thrown into the mix, Myers describes the banking industry almost in romantic terms, perhaps a reflection of his undergraduate studies in American literature.
“The greatest thing about my job is I get to see so many wonderful American success stories and really experience up close and personal what it means to be a part of this great nation that we have, a place where someone who didn’t have a lot came here and built a very successful business and life,” said Myers, sitting down at Constellation Coffee, one of the locally owned businesses he likes to frequent. “On the banking side, we can help them by lending them money, giving them advice, putting them in touch with other business people and help them grow the business and become a part of some of those successes. A lot of the great American successes are not Google or Facebook or other billionaires, but people you see every day here in La Cañada, people who are running small businesses and involved. … They are very successful and, I think, make up the backbone of this country.”
At the helm of Citizens, Myers helped develop the philosophy of and focus on developing long-term relationships — “Whether it’s personal or business, every relationship you have should be thought of as a long-term one,” he noted. He also has built a team of employees that he trusts, admires and loves, some almost as family.
Myers has been at four different banks over the years, and many employees have followed him from bank to bank, or rather, he recruited them. The same goes for some of the local residents he grew up with, including Ray O’Brien, who is chairman of the board of directors, and attorney Steve Del Guercio, also a board member and friend of four decades. (“It’s true, we do have quite the representation from La Cañada. … I did kind of recruit them, because I’ve known them for a long time and thought highly of their character.”)
As for his expectations as a boss, Myers said:
“I only ask two things: No. 1, I want your head in the job. No. 2, I want your heart in the job. If you’ve got those two things, then I’ve got a place in the lineup for you,” he said. “But if you don’t have your head and your heart in the game, then you need to find something where you do have that. Everyone should be passionate about what they do. We care about our clients as individuals, and building that culture, making people feel important about their contributions, the head and the heart are important and are a big part of our success.” He laughed as he added, “Even as corny as that might sound.”
Corny or not, as a publicly traded company, Citizens has lived up to big standards in an industry that has come under fire in recent years. CVB Financial Corp., of which it is a subsidiary, is one of the 10 largest bank holding companies headquartered in California, with $11.3 billion in total assets. Citizens is consistently recognized as one of the top performing banks in the nation and offers a wide array of banking, lending and investing services through 58 banking centers and three trust office locations, serving the Inland Empire, Los Angeles County, Orange County, San Diego County, Ventura County, Santa Barbara County and the Central Valley.
Even so, Myers is the kind of hands-on CEO who wanted to check out the progress of the bank’s new location in town, in the new City Hall at One Civic Center Drive. The bank recently moved from its longtime location at Beulah Drive and Foothill Boulevard. He thought he’d pop over and check in with the staff, he said. It’s long been his style as boss.
“Well, I’m just checking in on them… not going to help with construction or anything,” he said. “But it’s true. I am very hands on. I’ve learned to delegate more, though, over the years.”
That style will soon shift, however, as Myers plans to retire in March. Although he has loved his career, being the CEO/president of a publicly traded company is intense. He typically works evenings, weekends and vacations. “Even at a Friday night dinner,” he said, “you know, you’re always on. You’re always connected. Mind you, I’ve enjoyed it, staying attached and supporting my team no matter what. It’s a captive job, if you do it right. When you’re running a publicly traded company you’re accountable to a lot of people — the board, shareholders, your employees, your customers.
“So I do look forward to taking a break.”
For his part, Del Guercio, a former LCF mayor, recognized the impact of the work Myers has done at the bank, saying, “Chris is hands down the most skilled and effective business executive I have ever known. The bank’s performance under his leadership speaks for itself. It is an honor to serve with him in the board room and to call him my friend,” he said.
Before getting to March, Myers plans to give his 100%, as he’s done in nearly everything since that CIF championship (“Have I mentioned we were the only CIF champions, ever, yet?” he joked) and leave the bank in the strongest shape ever, topping the Forbes ranking again: “I want us to be the No. 1 bank in the country.”
After that, he plans to get in shape, hiking and perhaps trying yoga, which his wife of 33 years, Laura, also of LCF, has adopted. Together they hope to hike Machu Picchu, and this summer, he’ll take a road trip to visit baseball parks across the country with his son, Chris. His younger son, Craig played football for UCLA.
And as he shapes his next life chapter, Myers might use a football analogy to do it.
“I’ll say this: Football is the greatest team sport, the greatest life-lesson sport and a tremendous character-building sport. You have to get along with 40 people, some of whom you like and others you don’t. You’ll have numerous coaches, some of whom you like and others you don’t. And sooner or later in football, you’re going to get knocked in the nose, you’re going to bleed and you’re going to get yelled at. And you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and do it all over again.”