Winds of Change

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield. (Alfred Tennyson)

In Search of Greener Pastures

Coming from the old country, The Philippines, my wife and I decided to come to the United States as immigrants in June 1971, bringing along our four-year old son.

This was the time when America was deeply involved in the Vietnam war, opening immigration for professionals to fill the need for the country’s dwindling specialized skills in various professions. With that news circulating around, Filipino professionals flooded the U. S. Embassy with immigration applications. Many of those applicants came from the Central Bank of the Philippines (CBP or Central Bank) where it was rumored that a so-called brain drain was happening. The wait time for immigration approvals were six months at the outset. Of CBP’s over 400 bank examiners, around 50 percent left the country to migrate to the United States to find better employment opportunities, higher income and improved family life — I was one of them.

I loved and enjoyed my dream job as a Bank Examiner at the Central Bank, a prestigious position for me. It is one of the best and choice jobs an accounting professional would aspire for at the time. The job gave me the opportunity to go to a number of provinces where banks and their branch offices are located besides the opportunity to visit scenic places in the countryside and partake on ethnic or regional food and delicacies during work breaks and weekends. The job also gave me the opportunity to examine foreign commercial bank branches in Manila and suburbs, such as Bank of America, National City Bank of New York, and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.

After almost seven years of bliss and contentment the job offered came reality. To continue living in the Philippines with somewhat comfortable employment for both my wife and myself was not deemed a good option for the family. The benefits provided by my government employment looked promising, but not definitely sufficient to be able to own a home or even a car in the immediate future. We would still be living in an apartment for years despite some belt-tightening and squirreling a few bucks.

Close to the seven years at this job at CBP, strikes, protests and demonstrations had recently began to occur in various streets in Manila, which is the seat of government. The unrest were mostly about the economic situation in the city and suburbs, generally hitting hard the pocket book of the citizenry. Because the government had turned on its deaf ears, local authorities found the increasing and expanding protests difficult to contain.

After giving the family situation careful and calculated thoughts and, considering the stormy-looking political winds blowing in the country at the time, we came to the conclusion to leave and try our luck in the United States.

The family’s destination was to the windy city of Chicago with less than $700 on hand. This was the maximum amount the Central Bank allowed travelers to carry, and I was one of the enforcers of this, which began a few months earlier. The country’s surplus US dollars were on the decline that the economists did forecast an impending economic crisis in the not-too-distant future. If this had also to do with the brewing political atmosphere, I honestly did not have any idea.

At the suggestion of my wife’s cousin, we came to Seattle first. He convinced us to try our luck here in finding a job before proceeding to Chicago. Chicago, he said, was not only windy (which we knew beforehand) but really cold, especially during the winter time. Besides, he said, Seattle has the ideal four seasons climate, clean, and the best drinking water. The cousin gave us shelter in his home. Having lived in the United States for years working in the military service, his family already adapted the American way of life, values, and culture. Family relative or not, we had to pay rent for one bedroom while job hunting. This is America and there are no free lunches here, I realized.

The Job Hunt Experience

As I began my quest, I found Seattle citizens to be generally friendly, from bus passengers as well as people encountered in the streets. They seemed respectful, but also seemed reserved and silently watchful discernible from the body language and hushed conversations among the bus people.

The job hunt for me was grueling and no piece of cake or cup of tea despite my qualification as a CPA from the Philippines and a bank examiner at best. Prospective employers were not, unbelievably, aware or probably doubtful that my accounting credentials were as good as those here in the United States. Unknown to them — I’m sure of this even to this time of writing — universities in the Philippines use the same kind of materials in scholastic norms and activities, as in education, and professional practices, as those here in America.

My first plan in the job search was to visit private companies while I loaded myself with resumes. I wore out the soles of my two pairs of shoes pounding the downtown Seattle streets for almost three months, to no avail. All along, I was aware that Boeing had been laying off people in thousands or was in the process of laying off some more. Leaving no stones unturned, I went to employment agencies and provided them with my resumes. Employment agencies that accepted my application, sent me to prospective employers always one candidate too late. The companies I was referred to told me that had I come earlier they would have hired me over the people the agency had sent ahead for which they had committed already. Seemingly, to ensure they earn their referral fees, those employment agencies sent a second candidate at a later time of day, that was me, just in case the first candidate was not hired. I was always the last guy — their insurance policy. Never was I sent out as the first candidate as far as I know. But, I had to rely on the companies’ statements I visited where they said, “we would have hired you if you had come earlier.” Other excuses propounded by most of the private companies visited earlier were “you do not have local experience” or “you are over qualified,” leaving me with the thought of how would I get a local experience if they didn’t try me.

The adversity did not deter me from my quest, not even to the point of despair or depression and the thought to go back to the old country. Having heard from co-examiners-friends who went to other states like New York and New Jersey, they found jobs there readily; however, they accepted positions below my desired level, which to me, is mediocre. At the outset, I proudly promised myself not to accept any job than one with a responsible position based on my qualifications. To me — as always — determination, persistence, and perseverance are life’s game changer.

The job search led me to government positions that require taking employment exams and other conditions, one of which is having a car, for both King County and the State of Washington. With a few bucks on hand, having a car with no job yet would be a problem. Modesty aside, I topped the test on the King County position and passed a different one with the State of Washington. Both government entities called me in for interview about a week after the posted job deadline. Comparing the salary scales between the two positions, I chose the County interview first because it was to be held here in Seattle. Knowing that the County paid much better than the State, I immediately accepted the offer, except that I still didn’t have a car. For courtesy’s sake, I informed the State’s personnel office that I had already accepted a job at King County and declined the interview.

After breaking the good news to my wife’s cousin about getting hired by the County where the position required me to have a car, he took me to a dealership. To my surprise, I bought a brand-new car on credit that same day, with no down payment. That was incredible! I could only imagine that the dealership must have had relied on my government job because only my name was on the paperwork.

The dissemination of my resume during the earlier job search must have caught the eye of one North Seattle bank. It offered me a position I could not refuse. The Controller position, however, would not be available until after six months from the time of the phone call, which was in April 1972. The time frame for the position to be open, I thought, would be beneficial to me. It would give me ample time to gain the experience to work here in America, to adapt to its work and people culture, employee relationships, and more importantly, the interaction I would learn from supervisors and management. As for me, tenacity and conviction were beginning to pay off.

Before I could start with the Controller job, and of course, after passing the interview, the bank was still doubtful of my abilities, trust, and cultural behavior, which was understandable. My boss and his wife (he was the Treasurer at the time) took my wife and I to dinner on the bank’s dime. Although one might have thought that this was a welcoming dinner, it was really his way of gauging our manners, behavior, and values to see if we would over-indulge in alcohol. I got the job! I found out later that the bank’s president had my boss ascertain such measurement more because of my position not only on the job, but its effectual reputation in the Seattle community among the bank’s clientele as well as my peers.

Happiness has the habit of pursuing the person who feels grateful to his God, comfortable with his conscience, in favor with his friends, in love with his labors and in balance with his banker. (Anonymous)

A Home of Our Own

Within a month after we arrived in Seattle, my wife got a job, quicker than I did. We figured that our combined take home pay was sufficient to live ourselves in a two-room apartment, giving our son a room of his own, especially less-supervised behavior for a kid his age. Because my wife’s cousin’s wife had me reconcile their bank account during our time with them, I found out that the rent we were paying was their home’s monthly mortgage bill.

After some newspaper research, we moved into an apartment where the rent was quite a bit less than the one-bedroom rent we paid her cousin. Much later, we thought of having our own home. The monthly rent we paid her cousin came into our mind in this new quest. My wife called a real estate company that sent an agent to meet with us. Through him, we bought a small 3-bedroom home with a large backyard and a quiet neighborhood. The place was close to schools, a grocery store, a public recreation center as well as public transportation. My wife’s parents came thereafter from the Philippines.

With a growing son and more family members, we began looking for a larger home. We found one that was under construction at the time that my wife fell in love with. Similarly, the place was close to schools, grocery stores, church, banks, and public transportation. This was the home our oldest son continued his schooling, from sixth grade through two years of Civil Engineering at the University of Washington until he found the love of his life and married. This is now the home where our youngest son was born from, went to school from kindergarten through college and, like his brother, went to the University of Washington to graduate in a Communication’s degree, further completing it with a Master’s degree in Digital Media.

Work Ethics and Principles

After thirteen years stint, I left the North Seattle bank as Vice President and Treasurer. I felt the Board of Directors no longer needed my services after it hired another guy in another financial capacity of somewhat equivalent rank as mine. Incidentally and unfortunately, this was the time when interest rates shot the ceiling causing financial institutions to flounder where most went into economic crisis and financial straits. Several big banks and other financial institutions in the Seattle area and throughout the nation were failing. The Federal Government therefor needed regulators or examiners in each regional district to stem the tide of failures. There was no better time but time itself. Among more than a hundred of examiner applicants in Seattle, I was lucky to be hired to a lone Senior Examiner position at the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle, sort of another feather in my cap.

My first assignment was to the Territory of Guam, kind of an initiation to a newcomer who had a higher level in the Seattle district’s scheme of things. We took care of the problems the financial institutions faced within the district. As more problem institutions emerged at other regional districts, some of those districts borrowed examiners from our end for which I was one of the lucky (unlucky?) ones selected to help the Dallas, TX and Atlanta, GA districts.

The Seattle district encompasses Washington state, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Alaska, and Hawai’i besides Guam. I have visited all those states for at least two or more times in my seven years at the job. The continuous examiner training provided by the government enhanced the examiners’ knowledge and techniques in approaching and dealing with problems encountered on the job. It also allowed the examiners from different regions to get together and know each other.

Because the Seattle district was the first to reduce its cases of problem institutions among all other districts, the government began to lay off examiners through its reduction in force (RIF) processes. I was one of the lucky ones to go. But, at my age, I took an early retirement instead. Being still 58 years young, I was hired by the State of Washington’s Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) as a Senior Financial Examiner until I formally hanged my hat 15 years later. Of note, however, DFI offered me a supervisory position during my second year on the job. But I gracefully declined it because I didn’t want to be tied up at the office in Olympia. I opted to be “as free as a bird” in the field, with thanks.

In closing, I would say and quote an anonymous line “the years teaches much which the days never know.”