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Working for Valley Bank and Bank One in the 90s, and why I resigned

I've been lucky. In 1990 I landed a corporate job with one of the biggest banks in Arizona, called Valley National Bank, or Valley Bank for short. I had just moved back from Los Angeles, and I was hoping that I would be able to continue having a career in graphic design, but really all that mattered to me is that I wasn't going back to LA. I wanted to stay in Phoenix. I got the job!

Unfortunately, in 1990 I had joined a sinking ship. Valley Bank had been in terrible financial trouble, and I had no idea. The people who knew, who worked there, told me about it, and my favorite quote was "If Valley Bank goes bankrupt, everyone would have to leave Arizona, and the last person turns out the light." That should give you some idea how heavily Arizona had been invested in this bank, and had been for ninety years when I started. Yes, ninety years.

But I got lucky again when Bank One bought Valley Bank and poured in a ton of bucks (as you can see, I'm no financial expert). I loved working for Bank One, especially in the tower downtown (now called Chase Tower). It was the best of times.

Unfortunately, it became the worst of times when the Marketing Department (where I worked) started to be dissolved. It was a slow and painful process, but the Arizona Marketing Department had become redundant, as the Marketing came out of Columbus, Ohio (Bank One's headquarters). It started to get very unpleasant by the mid-nineties, and I saw a lot of people just waiting for the axe to fall. Needless to say, it wasn't any fun there anymore.

I learned why this happened. Bank One had been buying up banks all over the country waiting for true national banking to become legal, which it did in 1996. Before that, it was illegal for banks to span over state lines, going back to the Depression, when banks failed, and the thought was to just keep the failure limited to a particular state. Bank One had taken a huge gamble, and they were on the threshold of winning. This isn't "evil" or anything, this is just business. People make investments and hope that things work out. I understand.

In the summer of 1996 I wrote a letter of resignation, and handed it to my manager. I wrote "with deepest regret" and I meant it. I didn't leave angry, it was just time for me to go. I felt that I was still too young to just sit around there waiting to be laid off so I could collect unemployment insurance. That wasn't the kind of man that I wanted to grow up to be, and besides, I had no one relying on me, no wife, no kids. So I resigned, not in anger, but with dignity.

Late that summer I drove past a building that looked interesting, on 23rd Avenue and Dunlap. I stopped in just to ask what it was all about. It was called the Art Institute of Phoenix, and I started teaching graphic design that September. It was exactly the challenge I needed, and it relied heavily on my expertise in the business (which I had, although nothing else!) and I just had to get more organized, and get over the fear of public speaking. It was a great place to be.

The '90s were good to me in Phoenix, Arizona!

Image at the top of this post: Getting my picture taken for the One Card, Bank One, Central Avenue and Monroe, Phoenix, Arizona. In what is now Chase Tower.

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