Daniel Walker's career at the family bank started in the elevator shaft.

Walker, now chairman and chief executive of Farmers & Merchants Bank of Long Beach (FMBL) in California, began working for the bank as an elevator operator while on Christmas break from school when he was 14. The regular elevator operator was leaving the bank, which was installing a more modern lift in just two weeks.

"It was one of those elevators you've seen in the movies where the operator has a handle and has to time stopping the elevator to the right floor," Walker says. "I was out of school at that moment and they needed someone to run the elevator, and my father elected me to do it."

Walker, 59, eventually joined Farmers & Merchants full time as a teller in 1975, becoming the fourth generation of his family to work at the company that his great-great-grandfather C.J. Walker started in 1907. He went on to hold various positions and became its president in 2002.

Walker's grandfather, Gus Walker, who served as the bank's second president for roughly four decades, actively mentored him. The two talked almost daily.

"I learned from Gus Walker the responsibility you have as a banker, and that you have to the community," Walker says. "Your customers, and that service you owe them, should be your first priority every day."

Farmers & Merchants, which has $5.1 billion of assets, prides itself on having a sound reputation in the business community, Walker says.

C.J. Walker once saved a different Long Beach bank in the early 1900s. C.J. was an executive at the time of First National Bank of Long Beach, and he stopped a bank run by bringing in gold coins and bars. The gold bars were stacked in the bank's window and when a prominent depositor withdrew funds from his account, he was paid with gold coins. The moves convinced the community that First National was flush with funds and its deposits were safe. First National was eventually acquired by another bank, and C.J. founded Farmers & Merchants afterward.

Though there is no gold prominently displayed at Farmers & Merchants, the bank offers its healthy capital ratios as proof of its strength, Daniel Walker says. At March 31, its core capital ratio was 14.44%, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

"We treasure our capital strength," Walker says. "It's a great way to produce confidence in your customers to bank with you."

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