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Fourth generation of the founding family takes the reins

Richmond, CA, May 13, 2010— Mechanics Bank, a Bay Area fixture for 105 years, has passed the torch of its family stewardship to the next generation. The Board of Directors today elected Dianne Daiss (“D.D.”) Felton, 54, as Chairman and E. Michael Downer, 45, as Vice Chairman. Both are fourth generation descendants of the founder, E. M. Downer.

Felton served as Vice Chairman for eight years and has been a board member since 1981. Downer has been a director since 2002. The transition to new leadership has long been planned.

“We tell our clients—many of whom are family-owned businesses—that having a succession plan is critical to the survival and smooth transition of ownership from one generation to the next,” said Steven K. Buster, Chief Executive Officer of Mechanics Bank. “We took our own advice and prepared a succession plan to ensure that Mechanics Bank not only remains independent, but retains our founding philosophy of commitment to our employees, our clients and the communities we serve.”

A survey of family business owners by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) found that it is exceptionally rare for family-controlled businesses to survive into the fourth generation—just 3% make it. The average lifespan of such businesses is just 24 years. Mechanics Bank’s founding family has held a controlling interest since its founding more than a century ago.

“Michael and I will work hard to ensure that our board and shareholders continue to understand the advantages and importance of staying independent,” said Felton. “The recent financial industry turmoil has provided an excellent illustration of the wisdom of this approach. Our shareholders allowed our management to act prudently and manage for the long-term—not for Wall Street analysts—thus avoiding so many of the pitfalls that caused other banks to stumble. As a result, we have been able to continue to stay true to our original values.”

Vacating the chairmanship is E. M. “Eddie” Downer, who becomes Chairman Emeritus. “But don’t call it retirement,” said the 75-year-old community icon, who has served as a director since 1969, Chairman since 1981 and was President from 1971 to 1981. Eddie Downer will continue to be a familiar face at the bank’s Hilltop headquarters in Richmond and will continue his tradition of calling the bank’s nearly 700 employees twice annually, on their birthdays and hiring anniversaries.

“I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be than with Mechanics Bank,” Eddie Downer said. “It has been my privilege and passion to make sure we stay true to our founding philosophy. The implementation of our succession plan just means I’ll have more time to focus on our employees, our clients and my community activities.” Both Felton and Michael Downer have financial industry experience outside of Mechanics Bank. Felton joined Mechanics Bank’s board after working at Bank of America where she provided personal financial planning for executives, a precursor to the development of that bank’s private banking division. After working at Bank of America, she served as president of Glenbrook Leasing Company, an auto leasing firm. She is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in Statistics and Mathematics and also attended the Director’s College at Stanford University, and the Northwestern University Kellogg Graduate School of Business and Management.

Felton has served on the executive, governance and nominations committees of the board and had until recently chaired the audit committee since 1982. One of her primary responsibilities has been to serve as the director of education for the board, and she was instrumental in the creation of the Family Council of the bank to ensure the smooth transition from one generation of family ownership to the next.

Michael Downer’s more than 20 years of experience in the industry began at Napa Valley Bank where he was a commercial lender. He also worked as a credit administrator for Coast Commercial Bank in Santa Cruz before joining Mechanics Bank where he was a Vice President - Regional Manager and Retail Sales Manager. He subsequently founded his own company, Downer & Associates, Inc., a firm specializing in business sales, mergers and acquisitions of privately held companies in Northern California. He is a graduate of Linfield College with a B.A. in Business Administration and of Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Mechanics Bank has deep roots in Northern California. Founded at a time when banks were few and far between, it was a place for local railroad and shipyard workers (then called “mechanics”) in Contra Costa County to cash their paychecks. In the 1920s it was the first bank in the region to pioneer personal loans, and later, drive-through banking. It was among the first (1978) to install ATMs.

Throughout the Great Depression, when some 9,000 U.S. banks failed, Mechanics Bank remained solvent and worked to assist the people of the community who had fallen on difficult times. It prospered in the 1940s as Richmond, California became an industrial centerpiece of the War effort, making loans to thousands of workers at Kaiser Shipbuilding Company and Standard Oil (among others), providing banking services for Standard Oil (now Chevron) and offering its unique brand of personal service. Saturday mornings, for example, its bankers would go down to the Standard Oil long wharf to cash workers’ paychecks as they came off their tankers. And when the war ended leaving tens of thousands without work, the bank worked with borrowers to avoid foreclosure, just as it had during the Great Depression.

During the 1990s, the bank expanded beyond West Contra Costa County for the first time with the opening of retail, corporate and trust offices in Alameda County, Marin, Napa, San Francisco and the Sacramento region. It reached $1 billion in assets in 1996 and then $2 billion in assets in 2002 and is expected to reach $3 billion this year.

Mechanics Bank is continually listed among the Top 50 local corporate philanthropists each year, and has been recognized as one of the Top Ten Best Places to Work.

“Mechanics Bank is close to being unique in the banking industry,” said Buster. “Its success is due to an ethic that prizes integrity and commitment over short-term profit. That ethic has passed undiminished from one generation to the next. With the leadership of D.D. and Michael, I believe the bank is poised to remain independent at least another 100 years.”

For more information about Mechanics Bank, visit

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