The Arizona Banker - Jan/Feb 2013 - page 8

he entered kindergarten.
“All we knew was how to work in
the fields,” he said. They each earned
$1.50 an hour.
His grandparents immigrated to the
U.S. from Mexico to work the fields.
His parents met each other there, and
it’s how Almanza met his wife, Rosa.
But Almanza’s parents had bigger
plans for him and his two brothers.
When Almanza was 6 years old, the
family jumped off the farm labor truck
and settled into their first home so the
children could get a solid education.
From the beginning, Almanza was
good with numbers. When he was get-
ting a haircut at the barber shop one
day, he told his dad he wanted to be-
come a barber, because $8 per haircut
was a lot more lucrative than $1.50 per
hour in the fields.
He learned quickly how the chil-
dren of migrant workers were cast in a
different light. When he entered high
school, all of his friends were assigned
to college preparatory counselors,
complete with college prep courses. Al-
manza, on the other hand, was placed
on a vocational education track.
His mother confronted the principal,
saying she wanted her son in college
prep. While the principal wouldn’t
budge on the counselor, Almanza at
least was allowed to take the prepara-
tory classes.
To this day, it takes great strength to
maintain eye contact with his clients,
he said.
That doesn’t bother Earl Petznick,
CEO of Pinal Feeding Co. in Mari-
copa, who has done business with
Almanza for nearly 20 years.
“What impresses me most about
Benito is he always seems to have
a positive attitude about things,”
Petznick said.
Knowing the farming business is
invaluable, he said. “He’s a great guy
and a good friend,” Petznick said.
Ron Lopez, chairman of Phoenix
International Consultants LLC in
Phoenix, banks with Almanza and has
become very close to him over the years.
“If everybody had Benito’s heart
and soul and viewed the world through
his pair of eyes, this would be a great
world,” Lopez said. “Where there’s
bad, he sees good; where there’s de-
spair, he sees hope.”
Almanza is godfather to Lopez’s
Jose Cardenas, general counsel for
Arizona State University, said Almanza
is one of Arizona’s top citizens.
“He’s there when you need him,”
Cardenas said. “He’s terribly busy;
he travels the country all the time.
Whenever he can, he gives of himself
generously. I consider him a personal
friend and a real role model.”
Benito Almanza
Bank of America
He went on to earn an MBA at Stan-
ford University and then a law degree
from Santa Clara University. His first
job out of college 35 years ago was in
lending with Bank of America.
At first, he wanted nothing to do
with the farm industry — he’d had
enough of that life as a child. But he
quickly realized that he connected
easily with farmers because he knew
things about the industry that most
other bankers didn’t.
“Farmers like to talk to people who
know their business,” he said. So he cul-
tivated a specialty in agricultural lending.
But one thing was ingrained in him
as a child that he still has trouble with
today: looking other people in the eye.
Eye contact was prohibited as a farm
laborer. His aunts drilled that into him
as a young boy. The goal of a migrant
worker is to be invisible, they taught
him; don’t draw attention to yourself.
Benito Almanzo
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