Emigrating from the Spanish region of Galicia at the age of 13 some 58 years ago, to later becoming chairman and CEO of Spencer Savings Bank, Jose Guerrero’s tale is not just about the immigrant experience and realizing the American dream. With almost 40 years in the banking industry, his story is also one of surviving numerous financial crises.
Guerrero says his path and accomplishments give him great satisfaction because “my success was achieved through the great opportunities this country offers everyone if they work hard.”
Guerrero was the youngest and last of six siblings to leave the small town of Xinzo de Puentedeva, along with his mother, to join his father and the rest of the family in Newark.
Assimilating to a new country and culture was challenging, Guerrero recalls. Luckily, growing up in the Spanish-speaking enclave of Newark’s Ironbound, where he still resides today with his wife, Guerrero was able to transition into the American culture alongside his newly made neighborhood friends and classmates.
He developed an interest in accounting, and upon graduating from East Side High School, enrolled in a Newark-based accounting school and took classes at Rutgers University.
What happened next was fortuitous. “I met Nick Lorusso who worked at Spencer Savings Bank. He was vice president at the time and offered me a job as an auditor,” Guerrero said. (Lorusso would eventually become the bank’s president and chairman in ensuing years. He is now retired, but remains a board member.)
Guerrero rose through the ranks at the Elmwood Park-based bank, while taking advantage of various training courses it offered. Through the years, he moved from auditor and controller to chief financial officer, president, CEO and now chairman and CEO.
During this time, Spencer Savings grew both organically and by acquiring financial institutions such as Elmora Savings Bank, NJM Bank, Wawel Bank, and most recently, Mariner’s Bank (to be completed by the end of the year).
This growth and Guerrero’s own trajectory was not all smooth sailing. During the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s/early 1990s, the bank had a number of non-performing assets. “It was hard work turning the bank around, but we were able to make it successful again,” he says.
“Then the Great Recession (2007 – 2009; caused by toxic mortgage lending and other types of financial risk taking) caught us by surprise, but Spencer always had a conservative philosophy. We were safe because we gravitated toward safer products,” he says.
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, Spencer has come to the aid of small businesses by making more than 300 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans valued at $35 million.
Guerrero says Spencer’s plan is to reach $5 billion in assets. With the acquisition of Mariner’s Bank, Spencer will have assets of approximately $4 billion while the branch network will grow from 20 to 26 locations. The concentration of branches is in Bergen County, but Spencer’s also has locations in Essex, Union, Passaic and Morris counties.
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