Diamond-sharp service distinguishes Alumnus of Year’s banking business
BY LINDA CHILDERS ’85
It’s fair to say that Howard Hyman ’79 learned about money management at an early age. One of three children born to Morris and Alvirda, co-founders of Fremont Bank, a financial institution with 18 branches throughout the Bay Area, Hyman mastered fiscal responsibility by the age of 7.
“I was the first depositor at Fremont Bank in 1964,” says Hyman, 55. “I opened an account with $12 in dimes.”
Despite being born into a banking family, Hyman never felt pressured to follow in his parents’ footsteps.
“I was given the latitude to pursue whatever type of career I chose,” Hyman says. “My parents were both from the South, and we were raised with a taste for southern hospitality and valuing the importance of giving back to our community.”
Hyman’s mother was instrumental in creating the Fremont Bank Foundation in 1995, which provides grants to recipients at East Bay institutions in the areas of health and human services, education and the arts. The Foundation is now run by Hyman’s sister and nephew, with Hyman retaining a seat on the board.
Growing up in Fremont, in a family that emphasized the importance of education, Hyman didn’t look far to choose a college. After completing high school, he enrolled at CSUEB as a business major while also working as an attendant in a locked psychiatric health facility.
The experience proved to be an eye-opener for Hyman who became interested in medicine, specifically psychology, and learning how the human mind works. He began taking psychology courses at CSUEB, in addition to the business classes he was already taking, and graduated in 1979 with a degree in psychology and a minor in business administration.
After starting work at the bank in 1980, Hyman completed remote studies at the Stonier Graduate School of Banking at the University of Delaware, and the Bank Operations and Technology School at Vanderbilt University.
“My studies basically morphed into an organizational behavior degree which has helped me to understand how human behavior applies in the workplace,” Hyman says. “I looked at how our employees were delivering customer service and realized that no one shows up to work wanting to do a bad job, but they may not fully be aware of what a good job entails.”
In an age when customer service and employee appreciation often seem to be lost commodities, Hyman began to look at new ways to motivate employees and ensure customer satisfaction. In 2001, he launched Fremont Bank’s “Six Diamond Experience.” The principles of this initiative call for bank associates to take the following steps: appreciate the client, offer them choices, keep them informed, commit to accuracy, take ownership and treat clients above and beyond how associates would want to be treated themselves. He continues to shape the culture of the organization by serving as a board director and participating on the board’s Strategic Planning Committee at Fremont Bank.
“Our model recognizes that the client’s experience of being served is also the building block for the (bank’s) future,” Hyman says. “Client loyalty is a high priority, and our associates are our most precious asset.”
Hyman credits the psychology courses that he took at CSUEB with allowing him to look at his family’s business from a different perspective.
“I largely serve as our company’s chief culture officer,” Hyman says. “My studies at CSUEB allowed me to learn the best of both the business and psychology fields. Business leaders are often driven by trends and numbers while overlooking the people behind that data; by understanding human motivation, we’ve been able to foster creativity and teamwork to achieve successful business results.”
His approach is working. In 2012, for the second year in a row, Fremont Bank was named one of the Bay Area’s best places to work in a survey conducted by the Bay Area News Group. The company also ranks as the top community bank in employee satisfaction.
Nearly 400 Fremont Bank employees responding to the survey cited Fremont Bank’s commitment to professional development, an open door policy between management and employees, the quality of people and respect for employee input as important workplace benefits.
“When we hire a new employee, they are sent a welcome gift that includes several corporate branded items — a baseball hat, coffee mug, T-shirt and a letter letting them know we are happy to have them on our team. Our goal is to make new staff feel like a member of our family from Day One.” Hyman says.
Hyman’s approach to business and community service earned him recognition as CSUEB’s 2012 Distinguished Alumnus.
“Howard has done tremendous things in both areas, as a successful banker, a long-time member of the Cal State East Bay Educational Foundation Board of Trustees and a staunch supporter of public higher education in the East Bay,” says University President Leroy M. Morishita. “He exemplifies what it means to be a CSUEB alumnus through his contributions to the vitality of the East Bay.”
Fremont Bank employees also are encouraged to become involved with the bank’s mission of giving back to the community through personal service and by supporting the bank’s Foundation.
“We don’t do unsolicited grants, but rather we seek out local organizations to fund, and many of these projects are brought to our attention by our associates,” says Hyman, who also serves as a board member for the Cal State East Bay Educational Foundation. The bank has been a sponsor of CSUEB’s annual Education Summit for African American and Latino Youth to promote pathways to college access, success and education and also has made significant donations to education programs at area community colleges including Chabot in Hayward and Ohlone in Fremont.
In addition to donating grants, Hyman believes in donating his time — serving on nonprofit boards such as the Stanford Cancer Center Advisory Council. He also is a former board member for the Fremont Symphony and Valley Montessori School.
With his own family, Hyman has recreated the type of open door policy he fondly recalls his parents kept in his childhood home. “Although our home was pretty tiny with three small bedrooms and one bathroom, it always seemed like a community center, especially during the holidays. Friends and neighbors were always welcome.”
Today, Hyman and his siblings work hard to continue that sense of community in their workplace.
“My parents believed in giving back, whether that meant sponsoring the hometown parade or providing a much needed grant to a local organization,” Hyman says. “My brother Alan, sister Hattie and I believe in continuing that long tradition, both in terms of financial giving and volunteerism.”