Meet Malcolm “Mac” Hotchkiss, A Banker Literally In Love With His Ceo
A candid chat with a mentor and mensch
By Ed Goldman
While he’s been the boss many times in his career, these days Malcolm “Mac” Hotchkiss proudly works for his wife. He’s the chief operating officer of Golden Pacific Bank. His wife, Virginia Varela, is the community business bank’s president and CEO.
“Virginia and I have an amazing relationship,” he says over a recent lunch at The Sutter Club, the downtown Sacramento landmark founded in 1889 (only nine years after the death of its namesake, John Sutter). “In addition to being madly in love with each other, each of us is sometimes the missing puzzle piece for each other. She’s a very trusting but very exacting person; I’m like a risk manager, professionally and personally.”
Malcolm “Mac” Hotchkiss. Photo by Phoebe Verkouw
Hotchkiss was CEO of a number of banks in his career, which began in the early 1970s. He says he’d been “a good Number One for so many years. But becoming a Number Two has been a wonderful learning experience. Virginia has a great management style, and it’s completely different from mine. I like to delegate things but keep my fingers in the game. Virginia is more task-oriented as a manager. She can be very tough but her staff adores her because she’s also a born teacher.”
He pauses to come up with the most appropriate simile for his and his wife’s workplace chemistry. “I believe in managing like a music conductor,” he says, “whereas Virginia is like someone who can play every instrument in the orchestra.” He smiles and adds, “And can lead it just as well.”
Hotchkiss says that much of his workday involves him serving as a mentor to the next generation of bankers and executives, “but in all honesty, I think my mentoring is more of a two-way street than what you’d usually expect.” His own mentor, he says, “were my dad and my brother. My dad because of his work ethic and my brother because he actually helped me set up my first business, selling lemonade—which I franchised when I was still a kid!—and then, selling cleaning products door-to-door.”
At some point he and a business partner, Rachel Spenser, opened Santa Cruz Mortgage. “On our first day, the interest rate on loans hit 17 percent,” he says. “But rather than panic, we told our customers that if they stuck with us, we’d refinance their loans the instant rates came down. In the years we were in business, we helped a lot of young people buy their first homes, and that’s still a good memory for me.”
In 1990 he took his expertise as a loan officer to Watsonville Federal Bank, where he served as executive vice president and chief credit officer for four-and-a-half years. From there he soared to the top of his field, becoming board chair and chief executive officer of ULB Corp and United Business Bank. During his 23 years there, the bank’s coffers grew from $40 million to more than $500 million. He remains the director of the bank’s Human Resource Committee and Audit Committee.
Five years ago this June he joined Varela at Golden Pacific Bank (a sponsor of this column). “She had to fill a C-Suite position. So I stepped in. I’m not sure how good I would’ve been as a house-husband.”
I wonder whether employees at any level of the bank try to wangle their way past his wife by going to him, or to his wife to get in his good graces. He laughs. “You mean like, ‘Mom said I could do this if you said it was okay, Dad,’ right? Well, the answer’s no. Virginia is much too smart for that and wouldn’t tolerate an atmosphere like that.”
Finally, I ask Hotchkiss if his and Varela’s work challenges ever spill over into their home life. This elicits a rueful grin. “Well, we have the occasional 3 a.m. staff meeting,” he says, “and sometimes end up getting out of bed, going to our respective computers and working on things. But we have a rule: No texting between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.
“And sometimes,” he says with a wink, “we even follow it.”
A Weekly Blog by Virginia Varela
President and CEO, Golden Pacific Bank
photo by Phoebe Verkouw
When I mention to colleagues that I work at a community bank alongside my husband—and that we remain happily married in spite of being together 24/7—their eyes grow wide.
When I tell them I’m the President/CEO and he’s the Chief Operating Officer, their eyes grow even wider.
The questions then start to pop:
How do you separate work from home? How do you handle conflicts? Is there a power struggle? Don’t you drive each other crazy? Do you drive in together? What do you each have for lunch?
Okay, I’ll admit it: I really enjoy working with my husband. We practice respectfulness at work and at home, and we honestly do enjoy each other’s company. He’s not only a great employee, but also my best buddy, regardless of our surroundings. He’s very experienced, and I learn a lot from him daily. And we happen to share a wicked sense of humor.
What makes it work well is that we are very different from each other personality-wise, although we share common values. I like to think of us as team players, while maintaining our individuality. He’s much more of a commanding, directing presence; my leadership is more inclusive and pastoral. I’ll readily admit he’s more experienced and street-smarter than I am. But I come to the table with luck, fortified by guts and a high work ethic. Together we make a good team.
One positive aspect of working together is sharing the same goals and values, understanding the same industry and players, and being able to celebrate successes together. My spouse actually knows what we are celebrating and why it’s important to me and the business. (If you want to read more about him, look at The Goldman State column today, just above this blog.)
For my husband and me, there is a link between and among our work, our home, and our happy marriage. It’s working, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
On the pie chart, he’s more than my better half.