By Meghan Hickey
Those who dream of being rock stars become bankers. And those who dream of being bankers … become rock stars? Little did he know, Edward G. Untalan would become both.
Born and raised on Guam, Untalan couldn’t wait to leave the island for the mainland. “When I graduated high school, I wanted to be a [certified public accountant],” Untalan says.
He moved to Wisconsin to attend Marquette University — yet his big dream wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. “My first semester of CPA I said, ‘Forget about it, this is crazy!’,” he says. So, Untalan set his sights on his next big dream — New York investment banking. He later transferred to Manhattan College in Riverdale, NY, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in finance with a minor in economics and a master’s in business administration with a concentration in finance/investments and a minor in marketing.
“I went, and I pounded the street walking into every investment firm and brokerage firm looking for a job,” he says. “I went so far as to offer them to work for one month for free. I said, ‘Put me in the mail room, put me anywhere.’ I just want to get my foot in the door and into the investment experience.”
Once again, Untalan’s big dream wasn’t working out. On the advice of his father, he came back home to Guam to join his father at the Bank of Guam, working his way up through various positions along side him.
This move began his interactions with the three people that Untalan says would be the most influential in his career. “Just before [my father] passed, we were walking into the Agana Shopping Center and he said to me, ‘How do you like banking?’” Untalan says. “I said, ‘I like it, you know, because it’s really prestigious.’ So he pauses and a minute later asks the same question again. This time, I said, ‘Well, because eventually one day I’ll be able to get paid well.’ Then, he asked me the third time, ‘Why do you like banking?’ I thought about it hard this time … ‘Because I like helping people. I believe in the banking industry I can help people who don’t have the ability to get things started in buying a home, starting a business, buying a new car, etc.’ And then he was convinced that banking was for me.”
Untalan says that his father taught him that for every situation that you come upon in banking, you must do everything you can and explore every possible angle to be able to help someone, and that only once you can say that you’ve done everything you can for that person, is it time to walk away. This is something that Untalan took with him as he moved into his father’s position on the board of directors for the Bank of Guam after his passing, later into his eight years at the Guam Economic Development Authority and now almost 15 years at First Hawaiian Bank.
Each role has brought him further in understanding how to lead with purpose, he says. At GEDA, Untalan says he learned how to take off his hat in his role as a banker and began to look at situations from an economic development standpoint, thanks to his second most influential figure, Sen. Paul Bordallo. “He told me, ‘Our job is to create jobs — not to make money, but to create jobs — to stimulate the economy with the sole purpose of creating jobs,’” Untalan says. “I really took to heart about caring for people, caring for the island and caring for the well-being of the island.”
He has taken that lesson with him into his many positions at First Hawaiian Bank since 2004. Here he would work with his third most influential figure, Ray Ono, who told him, that not only should he be caring for customers, but for his employees as well. “He would always tell me take care of your people, because without them you’re nothing,” Untalan says.
Care for your customers, care for your home and care for your people are the three pillars that Untalan continues to live by as senior vice president and Guam-CNMI region manager for First Hawaiian Bank and as a dedicated resident with a love for Guam.
When not at the office, Untalan says you will find him playing guitar and singing music from the 1960s and 1970s in his band of fellow classmates, many who graduated from Father Duenas High School, called “’79 and Friends.” Many of the members he works with every day to collaborate on business opportunities for the betterment of the economy, but that time is set aside for them to get together, he says. “We just do it for fun. It’s a way for us to destress away from work.”