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How Zions Bank CEO Scott Anderson invests in his community

Given that their popularity these days is about the same as airport security scanners, the bankers of America are fighting back. They're taking out ads, they're mounting PR campaigns, and lately they're saying they were just kidding about that idea of charging extra fees to use your debit card.

That's one tactic.

Or they could just trot out Scott Anderson.

Anderson is president of Zions Bank and in the 21 years he's held that position he's amassed a reputation that hovers far more toward George Bailey than J.P. Morgan - a banker with the very un-banker-like image of someone who gives more than he gets.

His name may be largely unknown to most Utahns, but his fingerprints are all over the state. If it's a good cause, chances are he championed it, he's championing it, or he's about to champion it.

He recently joined the national business advisory board of this newspaper, a nonpaid position whose only value is intrinsic in helping shape editorial attitudes and policies. Just another in a long line of things Scott Anderson does that won't make him rich.

He serves on so many boards and committees it would take a meeting just to list them all: Beneficial Financial Group, Citizens for Education Excellence, Governor's Education Commission, Huntsman Cancer Foundation, Intermountain Healthcare, Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau, Southern Utah University Museum of Art, Governor's Advisory Team, USTAR, Utah Sports Commission, Utah Technologies Council, Westminster College National Advisory Council, World Trade Center Utah, and that's just for starters. This man is no stranger to a swivel leather chair.

The question of why he does it is usually preceded by how he does it. Gary Herbert, Utah's governor, swears there's more than one of him. "There is rarely an event to help Utah businesses, families or communities in which Scott Anderson is not involved," says the governor. "My theory is that the guy has clones - clones who happen to be every bit as friendly as he is."

Longtime Utah businessman Larry Olson of the Les Olson Company wonders if Anderson actually sleeps. "I've never had a call or an email not returned from him," says Olson. "Not once. He always gets back to you, and right away. I notice he answers emails at three or four in the morning. He must work 24 hours a day."

The reach of Anderson's soft touch is dizzying; he's an equal-opportunity supporter for the young, the old, the arts, sports, technology, education, healthcare, the poor, the homeless, women's rights, tourism, business - and in his spare time he heads up his neighborhood Fourth of July celebration.

And each cause tends to think it's his favorite.

The people at USTAR, the technology support alliance that has proved so successful it is being copied by other states, would grant Anderson knighthood if they could.

Says Ted McAleer, USTAR's executive director, "Without his vision we wouldn't be exceeding as we are today. He was there in the beginning and his enthusiasm and support has never stopped. This isn't just Scott Anderson of Zions Bank, this is Scott Anderson who cares passionately about the state of Utah and its future. He's absolutely a different breed of banker."

"I've met no one in the banking industry quite like him," says Howard Headlee, president of the Utah Bankers Association. "All bankers are connected to their community. They have to be. That's their business. And the same goes for Scott. It's just at a much greater scope and degree. He takes it to a level you don't normally see. He is embedded in every sector of our community. I don't know how he does it."

As an example, Headlee remembers a telephone call he received from Anderson a few years ago.

The issue was about an apartment complex on the west side of Salt Lake City where large numbers of refugee families lived. Virtually all of the refugees had been relocated to America through humanitarian agencies and were on limited incomes. The problem was that the owner of the complex had served notice that he intended to convert the apartments into condominiums so he could increase his rents and make more money.

Nothing wrong with that. It was a business decision. But it would leave the refugees in the lurch and that's why Anderson was calling the president of the bankers association. He felt the banking community needed to do something.

"The solution wasn't obvious," remembers Headlee. "Obviously, we didn't want to trample on the owner's rights. So what do we do? It was the start of many meetings that led to a number of solutions and approaches to the refugee situation."

One of those solutions was the founding of a charter school for refugees called the American Preparatory Academy, a humanitarian cause that Headlee has been involved with from its inception and one that he says "has changed my life."

"Trace it all back, and it started with Scott getting people together," says Headlee, "and with all that he does, it's something that's probably not even on his radar."

Fred Adams, the originator of the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival, notes that every time there's an important arts event or fundraiser, there's Scott.

"He'll find a way to be there and be supportive," says Fred. "I consider him the de Medici of Utah." (I looked it up. Adams is referring to fifteenth century Italian statesman Lorenzo de Medici, celebrated patron of scholars, artists and poets).

* * *

With his immersion and absorption in all things Utah, it would be natural to assume that building and preserving the state is all Anderson ever wanted to do and all he's ever done.

But the truth is, he took his sweet time getting to it. He left the friendly confines of home when he was a young man and for a long time it appeared he would never come back.

He is the second of seven children - six boys and a girl - born to respected federal judge Aldon J. Anderson, a Richard Nixon appointee, and his theater-major-turned-speech-therapist wife Virginia Weilenmann Anderson, a woman who worked extensively with the handicapped and never met a service project she didn't like. He grew up in the East Millcreek area and graduated from Skyline High School, class of 1965.

The family's roots stretch deep into Utah history. One ancestor is Major Howard Egan, who organized the Pony Express in the territory. Another is Ezra T. Benson, the Mormon apostle who was in the first group of pioneers to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. Soon after arriving, Benson built a home on the corner of South Temple and Main Street, one of the earliest and finest residences in the new city, after which Church president Brigham Young sent Benson to settle Cache Valley and appropriated the house, which was eventually razed to make way for the Templeton Building, the home of Utah's first bank. "A sore point in our family lore," says Anderson, who smiles as he says it, because in a way the family got the old homestead back. His second-floor corner office in the Zions Bank Tower on South Temple occupies virtually the same spot Ezra T. built his house.

On Scott's mother's side, the Weilenmanns came to Utah from Switzerland and colonized the area around Bear Lake and Paris, Idaho. Among that family's progeny is Milt Weilenmann, Virginia's brother, who, besides serving as state chairman of the Democratic Party in Utah, opened one of Salt Lake's most popular restaurants in the 1950s and 1960s: Bratten's Seafood Grotto.

All the Anderson kids worked at Bratten's, including Scott, whose first job as a teenager was as a busboy. His sister Becky tells the story about Scott showing up for his shift early one Saturday morning, before anyone else got there, and rearranging the layout of the tables "so the flow would be better." And when Uncle Milt showed up and saw what his nephew had wrought? He kept it that way.

"We all worked there," says Becky, now an administrator at the Utah High School Activities Association, "but Scott took the initiative to make it work better."

Becky, by the way, acknowledges the role that not just Scott, but all her brothers, played in turning her into a top-notch athlete who paid for her schooling at the University of Utah with a softball scholarship. "They never excluded me," she says. "Not only did they care and look out for me, but whenever they were doing something, they invited me to participate too. I was never the little sister they had to drag along."

Jeff was the oldest; he became a doctor, as did Craig and Doug. Chris and Kevin went into law like their father.

Then there was Scott.

"He was kind of the unconventional one," says Becky. "He was this entrepreneur. He liked business. My grandmother used to say he was the only non-professional in the family."

After a freshman year at the University of Utah followed by two years in Tahiti on a Mormon mission, that unconventional bent took Scott to Columbia University in New York City for an undergraduate degree in philosophy, and then to Johns Hopkins University in Washington, D.C. for a master's in economics and international studies. Part of that coursework involved a year at the University of Bologna in Italy, where Anderson learned Italian to go along with the French and Tahitian he'd learned on his mission, and, in the presidential election of 1972, where he served as chairman of American Students Abroad for McGovern. "As close as I came to being a hippie," he says.

Following graduation he accepted a job offer from Bank of America, who posted him first in San Francisco and then Tokyo.

It was while he was in Japan that he married Jesselie Barlow, a Utah girl from Layton whom he'd met when he was at school in Washington, D.C. and she was working as a legislative assistant for various Utah office-holders on Capitol Hill. After an extremely long-distance courtship, Jesselie flew to Tokyo and they were married at the U.S. Embassy at the end of a busy workday.

"It was a very hectic time for Bank of America right then," remembers Jesselie, "and Scott's boss said he couldn't take any leave. He worked the entire day (of the marriage) and we got to the embassy just before it closed. Then he went back to work the next day. I always tell people I was forewarned."

Two years later, Scott and Jesselie returned to San Francisco, where, in 1983, Scott was made vice president and manager of the San Francisco Main Office. In the meantime, the family expanded to five - after daughter Heidi came sons Barlow and Scotty. Life was good in the City by the Bay.

The call to come home came from Roy Simmons, the founder of Zions Bank and Jesselie's uncle (Roy's wife Tibby and Jesselie's mother were sisters). For years, Simmons had his eye on his niece's husband, and not because of any interest in nepotism, but because of Anderson's sterling track record as a banker.

After 17 years with Bank of America, in December of 1990 the Andersons returned to Utah. One of two main motivating factors bringing him back, Anderson says, was "So our children could have more interaction with family, something that was so important to us."

The other was the way Roy Simmons ran his bank.

"Roy had the same kind of mindset they had at B. of A.," Anderson says. "He believed that banks truly are local. That it's a business of trust at its most basic. Banks thrive when the people and communities they are in thrive."

In the two-plus decades since Anderson came on board, Zions has seen considerable growth. In 1991 the bank counted 78 branches and $3.2 billion in assets. Today there are 133 branches with $16.3 billion in assets. Zions is the largest bank headquartered in Utah and has more branches in more communities than any financial institution in the state.

* * *

On the desk in the corner office that stands where his great-great-great grandfather Benson's house once stood, Scott Anderson has positioned three small bronze sculptures. Two are of Utah Jazz legends John Stockton and Karl Malone, replicas of the full-sized ones erected outside Energy Solutions Arena.

The third is of Amadeo Giannini, the Italian immigrant who founded the Bank of Italy in San Francisco in 1904 and in 1922 renamed it the Bank of America.

Giannini's story is legendary in financing lore. His modest bank was a mere two years old when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake devastated the city, shutting down, among other things, the vaults in all the big banks. Giannini, on the other hand, was able to quickly access all his bank's funds and as the smoke was still settling and the fires were still burning he set up a makeshift desk literally over a barrel and started loaning money to those who needed it to rebuild. He asked for no collateral and dispensed his money freely to the common man, something considered anathema to bankers of the time who only dealt with the upper class.

Giannini boasted that every earthquake loan he made was repaid. It was the beginning of what has grown into America's second-largest bank.

Giannini's daughter, Claire, gave Anderson the bust when he left Bank of America. He keeps it front and center to remind him, he says, that the main value of money is to help people and their community grow.

Of Giannini, Anderson says, "They say that when he died his estate was just $500,000."

He doesn't elaborate, but his implication is clear: in a business where money is how they keep score, Giannini cashed in well short of the Rockefellers and the Morgans; a mere pauper by comparison. He funded his legacy instead with a different sort of currency, drawn on goodwill and good service.

"His example really impacted me," Anderson says as he reaches out to dust off the Italian's statue. But he doesn't linger. He's got meetings to go to, causes to champion, and a bank to run - in a very un-banker kind of way.


Local involvement: Here's a selection of where Scott Anderson is involved in the community:

Beneficial Financial Group

Citizens for Education Excellence

Governor's Education Commission

Huntsman Cancer Foundation

Intermountain Healthcare

Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Southern Utah University Museum of Art

Governor's Advisory Team

USTAR, Utah Sports Commission

Utah Technologies Council

Westminster College National Advisory Council

World Trade Center Utah