Prosperity CEO's mother escaped Holocaust (video)
Oct. 31, 2013 at 5:31 a.m.
Updated Nov. 1, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
EL CAMPO - For David Zalman, a longtime banking career started with a guy at a service station.
Zalman, an El Campo native, spent much of his youth working at the Gulf service station his father, Albert Zalman, owned. There, he washed windshields, topped off tanks and the like.
That often meant working with an important-looking banker who ventured in with his suits and cigars.
"I said, 'You know, that wouldn't be a bad deal to do one day,'" said Zalman, who now serves as Prosperity Bank's board chairman and CEO. "So I had thoughts of going into banking."
The rest, as they say, is history.
Zalman graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in business administration and found his niche within the profession.
Still, even in the financial world, he said that initial experience paid off big.
He recalled the days at the station, watching his mother fill out bank checks, carefully documenting daily expenses and income.
"So every day, we knew what we made," he said.
His mother, Stefania Zalman, was always the more business-minded one in the family, he said, and hers is a story all its own.
She came from Poland, he explained, and most of her family - who were Jewish - were killed during the Holocaust.
His mother, who spoke and wrote seven languages, survived because she escaped and found work tutoring a Gestapo agent's children. She later went on to work for the Allied Powers with a woman colonel from Houston who interrogated Adolf Hitler's main men.
"She was the interpreter for her," he said. "My father was the military policeman that was guarding Hitler's main five guys. That's how they met, actually."
His mother later went on to testify and save the life of the Gestapo agent who saved her own life.
Zalman worked to carve out his own path in banking, first taking work with a Houston company that hired him to assist as they purchased El Campo's Commercial State Bank. When the deal fell through, they hired him on with the bank.
He later went on to work with the First Bank of Edna, which later became Prosperity Bank.
Zalman's career with the current company is a long one.
He became president of Prosperity Bank in 1986, for instance, and became vice president and secretary of Prosperity Bancshares, the bank's parent company, in 1987, according to a Prosperity news release.
He went on to become president and CEO of Prosperity Bancshares in 2001. Several years later, he also became senior chairman and CEO of Prosperity Bank.
Zalman saw growth through the years, he said, noting the Edna bank began with about eight employees. Today, after recent acquisitions - Prosperity in July acquired First Victoria National Bank in a deal that closes Friday and in August acquired Oklahoma's F&M Bancorporation Inc. - Prosperity maintains more than 3,000 associates.
Size wasn't the only difference. He said other changes also made themselves known in the industry.
Advancing technology has been a game changer, for instance. While banks once required about one employee per $1 million in assets, today computers cut that down substantially.
Otherwise, rather than having 3,000 employees, Prosperity would have closer to 30,000 today.
Regulatory issues also join the mix, bringing about more consolidation than banks saw in the past.
"Banks are having to get much bigger, simply because of the regulatory burden we have," he said.
Zalman said he expects Prosperity to see future growth, but it won't be for a while.
For now, he said, the goal is to focus on integrating Prosperity with its most recent acquisitions and making sure everything is in working order.
"We've grown so much just from a year to a year and a half ago," he said. "I think you will see us grow, but I do think we need to take some time to try to gel."
Outside of the office, Zalman he and his family enjoy spending time at their lake home on Lake Travis. Typically, however, he enjoys spending his evenings at home.
"There's just so much that goes on every day," he said. "So, with over 250 banks and people calling you every minute, in the evenings one of my favorite things is sitting on the front porch with a cigar and a scotch."
Daniel Zalman, the banker's identical twin brother, also of El Campo, described the CEO as a focused and driven individual, but one who never forgot where he came from.
"It's not unusual to see David serving and taking care of guests, regardless of where we are," he wrote in an email. "He truly would give someone the shirt off his back."
David Zalman has served on the El Campo city council, has worked with the Lions Club and said he encourages his employees to get involved in the community.
He and his twin also went into business together, along with other partners, on El Campo's ICM LP, which distributes children's clothes to different companies.
"We don't always agree on the road best traveled, but more often, we do, and his contribution is always sought and appreciated," Daniel Zalman wrote.
George Charkalis, who co-owns Greek Bros., has worked with David Zalman in the past. He described the banker as a man who's been a hard worker from the start.
"He used to sell newspapers on the corner when he was young, and one guy I knew would always try to get out of school earlier," Charkalis said. "But David beat him. He got his papers out first."
Although the banker now finds himself in the midst of those with lots of money, Charkalis said he remains down-to-earth.
"I've seen him pull weeds in his own yard," he said. "Business is business, but I know that he's been quite a gentleman and a good neighbor for us. And I think Victoria is going to be lucky to have him."
David Zalman admitted you can't deny Prosperity's size - he guessed it's Texas' second-largest bank - Zalman said he hopes to continue serving the company's various communities down the road.
"I think we're a large bank with a community bank spirit," he said, noting the company's mission statement encourages employees to smile, greet customers by name and to say "yes" when possible.
"It's a very simple deal, and we try to stick to that."