Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2007Kellogg School of Management
FeaturesBrand NewsFaculty NewsAlumni ProfilesClass NotesClub NewsArchivesContactKellogg Home
Culture of collaboration
Risk takers, value makers
Venita Fields '88
Joseph Levy '47
David Weinstein '00
Betty Chow '88
Doug Cook '98
Julia Stamberger '02 and Pam Jelaca '00
Cheryl Mayberry McKissack '89

Put to the test

Experiential learning
The new worker's revolution
So you want to be an entrepreneur
Driving innovation
Stalking the wild consumer
Big ideas (and how to put them to work)
Better teams, by design
Disruptive technology or industry savior?
Wall Street smarts
Fundamental insights
Getting on board
Address Update
Alumni Home
Submit News
Internal Site
Northwestern University
Kellogg Search

Risk takers, value makers

Betty Chow's risk pays off in Chinatown bank by building trust and community value

A  little more than a decade ago, Betty Chow '88 was content in her job as a staff development officer with the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Then along came a realization that would change her career path — and shape her life. A group of friends, all Chicago-based professionals of Chinese descent, noticed the lack of Chinese-owned banks in Chinatown.

Betty Chow '88  
Betty Chow '88  

The friends collectively dreamed of opening a bank that would cater to the needs of Chinese immigrants, but at first dismissed the idea as too difficult. It would be two years before the group of nine, led by Chow with her extensive knowledge of banking regulation, decided to plunge ahead with their plan.

"We sent four or five people to meet with the state regulators and learn about the application procedures," remembers Chow, now president and CEO of the resulting Pacific Global Bank. "We realized it would be difficult, but not impossible. And we really felt there was a need."

To complete the application, the group needed to find an address to house their proposed bank. But that meant a rather large gamble: renting or buying a building without the secure knowledge that regulators would approve the bank.

Again, Chow and company plunged ahead. "I don't know where we got the courage, but we bought the building," she remembers. The bank's first branch, set in a pagoda-shaped building, is located on Wentworth Ave. in Chicago's Chinatown.

Once established, bank leaders set about their goal of serving a distinct immigrant community. Most staff are bi- or trilingual. Chow herself speaks four Chinese dialects. Pacific Global installed the first Chinese-language automated teller machine in the Chicago area and taught customers, many of whom were unfamiliar with the technology, to use it. Since some immigrants are reluctant to write checks, the bank collects utility bills as a service.

"I take a lot of pride in helping people," says Chow, a graduate of the Kellogg Executive MBA Program. "For me that's the most rewarding part of the job."

In many cases, Chow says, helping one person boosts the entire community. Several years ago, the bank loaned a customer $50,000 to begin importing foodstuffs from China. Today, Chow notes, the quality of Chinese food available at Chinatown grocery stores has improved dramatically. Another loan customer, who started a construction company, has helped renew sections of Chinatown and other parts of Chicago.

After opening a second Chinatown branch and another in a neighboring community, the bank is expanding its base to include Spanish-speaking immigrants and others. The common denominator in serving all populations is respect for customers and a focus on integrity, Chow says.

"Trust is very important," she adds. "There's a lot of predatory lending out there. We don't want to mislead our customers."

Her biggest challenge to date is staffing. Since few experienced bankers in Chicago speak Chinese, Chow has elected to train promising candidates who already have acquired the language skill. In this endeavor, she says her Kellogg School education has proven vital.

"Kellogg really helped me learn how to get my work done through other people," she says. "Before, I always thought if I was doing a good job that was good enough. In my position now, I have to develop other people to get the work done."

It's a skill that has played a part in transforming Chow into a true entrepreneur.

— Kari Richardson
Current Top Headlines
View all current news
Subscribe to Kellogg News RSS
©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University