Growing East West Bancorp has been an endless addiction for Julia Gouw.

Even when she attempted retirement in late 2008, Gouw would show up at least once a week at the Pasadena, Calif., company.

"A lot of people think I'm just a fixture here after 21 years," says Gouw, who was named president and chief operating officer in December.

It was not hard to convince Gouw to give up retirement, especially after East West acquired its largest competitor, the $10 billion-asset United Commercial Bank, which failed last year.

"She came right in and took charge," says Dominic Ng, chairman and chief executive of East West. "She knows everything about East West and I know she has the capabilities."

Gouw completed the United Commercial integration in six months.

She started at East West as controller in 1989, when it had just $400 million of assets. Ten acquisitions and an initial public offering (in 1999) later, East West is now the country's largest Chinese-American banking company, with nearly $20 billion of assets.

As for retirement, the 51-year-old Gouw has put that on hold indefinitely. "I'm committed here," she says.

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