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Ventura County

Oxnard Bank Is Founded

Finance: Investors team to form institution that will focus on serving small- to medium-sized businesses.


Two local bank presidents who worked themselves out of their jobs have joined with area business leaders to form Ventura County Business Bank.

State regulators gave preliminary approval Friday to the charter for the Oxnard-based bank, whose executives plan to open a branch in the Thousand Oaks area.

Ventura County Business Bank, which expects to open early next year, will target small- to medium-sized businesses with annual sales of up to $15 million. Approval from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which protects deposits up to $100,000 each, is expected next week.

The idea of starting the financial institution came from Gerald J. Lukiewski of American Commercial Bank in Ventura and Robert B. Hamilton of Los Robles Bank in Thousand Oaks.

American Commercial, with six branches, became so successful that it was bought by Midstate Bank for $63 million in September 2001, and Los Robles' three branches were bought by Santa Barbara Bank & Trust for $32 million in June 2000.

"To start a bank, there has to be a need," said Hamilton, a board member of the new bank who is coming out of retirement to help secure clients, especially in the east end of the county. "The larger banks tend to go after the bigger customers."

The founders chose to focus on providing better banking service to companies with $1 million or so in annual sales "because those are the guys who end up with sales of $30 million," Hamilton said.

Lukiewski, the founding president and chief executive of Ventura County Business Bank, signed up several veteran bankers to oversee the new operation.

Along with Lukiewski and Hamilton, the 14-member board of directors will include the owners of an insurance agency, a telecommunications company, a furniture store and a realty office, as well as outgoing county Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury. Directors are expected to invest about a third of the bank's equity.

"The board members are going to probably put in $200,000 each," Lukiewski said. "I wanted to keep it kind of high so everyone in the community knew that we were serious. If you put that much money in, people know that you're going to be watching the bank like a hawk and working hard to make it grow."

The investment group hopes to sell at least $8 million in shares to the board and other investors, with minimum investments of $1,000 for 100 shares at $10 each. The capital generated would allow Ventura County Business Bank to create a loan and investment portfolio of up to $100 million.

Lukiewski said it's a good time to launch an independent bank.

"We're banking on the businesses here, and for the most part they've been pretty healthy."

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