From Teller to Top Boss – First Northern CEO Says She Never Stops Learning
Louise Walker can do any job at her First Northern Bank branches and do them well.
“I just loved banking from the very beginning,” she says. “I have worked in every area here and each position I held gave me a thirst for learning.”
Starting at First Northern 34 years ago, Walker did not have a vision to secure the top job of the regional bank, which serves customers in Dixon, Fairfield, Vacaville, Davis, Vacaville, Roseville, Sacramento, Walnut Creek and Winters. She is the only female CEO of a regional bank. Sitting in her comfortable office on First Street, the headquarters of First Northern, she seems surprised to have had the accomplished career that would be the envy of many.
“I was hoping to get the CFO position but when the opportunity arose to serve in this capacity, I took it,” she says.
The Dixon resident came to the area when she was a high school student. “My dad worked at PG&E in Oakland and we lived in Richmond,” she explains. “He wanted us to live in a safe and family-oriented place, so he chose Dixon. He went to my high school and met with students and teachers to find out more about the school here. I was pretty embarrassed about that.”
Very early, Walker decided to focus on accounting and attended Solano Community College while working at First Northern.
“I often advise people in this area to consider going to Solano and then attend a four-year college,” she said. “I was able to work, attend school and really find out what I wanted. I really determined my direction there. After Solano, I went on to St. Mary’s. My older son went straight to Davis and wished he had spent time at a community college to get the bearings I got. My youngest son is going to follow in my footsteps and attend Solano as well.”
“We are really proud to have Louise as one of our distinguished alumni,” says Curt Johnston of the Solano Community College Foundation. “She is a perfect example of how your big dream can start at a community college and grow from there.”
While starting her banking career, she says she was struck by the history of First Northern. “It began as a way for farmers to have an accessible bank in 1910, so our roots were built on agriculture. Today, we support a diversity of customers from small businesses to agribusiness to clean energy and everything in between.”
On a recent morning, Walker took down one of the treasures from the beginning days of First Northern. A ledger that still bears the patient pencil strokes of a long-ago banker shows names of customers that are the ancestors of many Dixon residents today. She gestured to some of the entries.
“These families are still our customers,” she says thoughtfully, a gloved hands running along a tidy list of names on the delicate, 103-year-old pages. It gives me a great feeling to know that there is such a great history of service here.”