Chairman, chief executive officer Westamerica, San Rafael, Calif.

When David L. Payne became chairman of Westamerica Bancorp. five years ago at the age of 32, he had just one credential: his family was one of the bank's biggest shareholders.

Mr. Payne's only banking experience was a few years spent as a board member. When he took over as chief executive in 1989, many wrote him off as unqualified to run a bank reeling from management scandals and bad loans.

But look again. Under Mr. Payne's guidance, $1.4 billion-asset Westamerica has cleaned up its loan mess and become the largest independent bank in Northern California. Completion of a pending acquisition of nearby Napa Valley Bancorp will take Westamerica near the $2 billion mark.

Based in San Rafael, Westamerica serves a mix of retail and small-business customers. Its performance has steadily improved, earning a record $10.3 million in the first nine months of 1992, a return on assets of 1.01%.

Short on banking experience, Mr. Payne brought with him business smarts honed by years spent running his family's publishing company. "He's got a very solid business perspective," says Michael B. Abrahams, an investment banker with Oppenheimer & Co.

Mr. Payne is a conservative lender who stopped making construction loans in 1989. But he is an aggressive business promoter who keeps his staff busy calling on customers.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.