Only in California would a 46-year-old office-equipment salesman decide to start a bank and succeed during the state's worst recession in 60 years.

Heritage Bank of Commerce opened for business last Wednesday, the first new bank in San Jose, Calif., in 12 years. The bank was capatilized with a phenomenal $14 million community offering, with the average investment being $30,000 a shareholder.

The bank is the brainchild of Bill Del Biaggio 3d, a young member of a well-known San Jose business clan. On his rounds as a salesman for Xerox, he repeatedly heard his customers tell of how the turmoil in the local baking industry was giving them headaches.

Banks 'Swallowed Up'

"A lot of our community banks were being swallowed up," Mr. Del Biaggio said. "Business people weren't receiving the types of services and attention that they were receiving in the past."

The merger action in the San Jose market is the main reason why Mr. Del Biaggio and the group or organizers he put together decided to start a bank. Santa Clara County's biggest middle-market lenders, Pacific Western Bank and Plaza Bank, have both been sold to Detroit-based Comerica in recent years.

In addition, San Jose's most prominent community banks, California Business Bank and San Jose National Bank, decided to merge earlier this year.

Heritage hopes to exploit the inevitable customer throw-off of the mergers. Mr. Del Biaggio said Heritage wants to buck the; trend of consolidation that is affecting California's 400 community banks and is expected to reduce their number.Heritage BankAt a GlanceHEADQUARTERS:San Jose, Calif.BACKGROUND:First start-upbank in San Josein 10 yearsFOUNDER:William Del BiaggioCEO:John E. Rossell IIICAPITALIZATION:$14 million

"We're not reinventing the wheel here," he said. "We had banks here go after the middle market and they grew to $500 million of assets in a few years. There's a lot of generational business in this area that likes to do business with people they know. We want relationship banking, and banks here have left that concept behind."

Mr. Del Biaggio, whose father is chairman of Heritage, makes no bones about his desire to be chief executive of heritage, but because of his age and "the fact that I have no banking experience," he had to settle for director or marketing and community relations.

Besides, "we got the best president we could hope for."

Heritage's chief executive is John E. Rossell 3d, who used to run banks for St. Louis-based Mark Twain Bankshares.

Mr. Rossell said he's confident that with $14 million in beginning capital the bank should be able toi grow at a decent clip for at least three years.

"We wanted to insulate ourselves from the give and take of the economy," he said. "But we also wanted a bank that could make loans to middle-market companies from the very beginning. We eant to be able to make million-dollar loans."

He said the referral-based marketing strategy should do well in the San Jose region, known for its high-tech and venture-capital industries and the spawning of millionaijres during the 1980s.

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