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Over the decades, First Fed’s Charlie Guildner has racked up ample experience, sailing the high seas of both banking and actual oceans.

“It’s really peaceful,” says Guildner, 62, of being on a sailboat amid the open ocean. “It’s quiet. There are no engines — just wind and water and friends. It takes the stress of pretty much everything on land away, when you get out and sail.”

Recently hired as First Fed’s new SVP, Director of Commercial Banking for Whatcom, Skagit, and Island Counties, Guildner has spent most of his life in local banking as well as on the water.

Hoisting the Mainsail

Born in Snohomish, Guildner raced sailboats in his younger years, including in Bellingham Bay. He began his banking career accidentally, he says, after graduating from Pacific Lutheran University in 1983 with a degree in economics.

Finding work amid a Reagan-era recession was a challenge, but an Everett bank manager eventually took a chance on Guildner and hired him as a loan officer. Guildner remained with Cascade Bank for the next 15 years, rising to the position of Vice President of Regional Lending.

During his tenure there, Guildner and his wife moved to Bellingham and later to Mount Vernon, where they raised a son and daughter and became involved in the Skagit Valley community. Guildner founded a local volleyball club and served on a local school board and Rotary Club, while his wife worked as a kindergarten teacher and was a high school volleyball coach.

In 1999, Guildner took an 18-month hiatus from banking. Along with his wife and two children (then ages nine and 11), the family sailed their 40-foot sailboat across the Pacific Ocean, traveling from La Conner to the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. They also visited Tahiti, Tonga, New Zealand, and Australia, forging lifelong memories of cultural exploration.

Charlie Guildner with his wife, sailing in Antigua.

Guildner and his wife still love traveling. In recent years, they’ve charter sailed in Greece, Thailand, and the Caribbean. In total, Guildner has sailed to Hawaii eight times from our neck of the woods, including several 1990s trips in which he raced there on behalf of the Bellingham Yacht Club.

After returning from his sailing odyssey in 2000, Guildner went to work for Peoples Bank, where he spent the next 17 years serving in a variety of positions, including as Chief Credit Officer and Chief Lending Officer.

With their children grown, Guildner and his wife moved to Bow eight years ago and built a house. But not long after, Guildner had the opportunity to take a new position in Chelan, Washington, as President and CEO of North Cascades Bank.

He took the job, moving only under the conditions his wife set: they’d retain their Bow property, and she would finally retire.

“We were really lucky to be able to have homes in two really cool, eclectic locations, in Bow and Chelan,” Guildner says of splitting time between the two towns.

In his spare time, Guildner also likes to snow ski, play golf, and spend time with his family. 

Relationship-Driven

After North Cascades Bank merged with Wheatland Bank, Guildner was not yet ready to retire himself. He reconnected with former colleagues who convinced him to join First Fed. He was drawn to the bank by the quality of the team and their community commitment.

“We’re a relationship-focused company,” he says of First Fed’s banking culture. “It’s people first, businesses first. To be a financial partner and advisor in the small business community — to help businesses grow and thrive — that makes our community stronger.”

As director of commercial banking at First Fed, Guildner’s focus is to grow the Whatcom, Skagit, and Island County markets using his decades of experience and contacts with local customers, businesses, and centers of influence.

While many bankers unfairly wore a “universally bad” moniker in the wake of the 2008 recession, Guildner says community banks cannot be equated with large ‘money center’ banks that exist on a national level. Funds deposited at community banks, like First Fed, are often reinvested in the communities and businesses they serve.

Commercial banking with small businesses, Guildner says, doesn’t just mean loans, but a host of proper financial services any business needs. These include digital banking transactions like payroll management and payment processing, and all the money movement transactions that keep a business running efficiently and, hopefully, profitably.

Much like the riggings of a mainsail, Guildner has seen first-hand how essential community banking truly is, as needed as a community’s healthcare and education services.

“You have to have access to your money and ways to make payments and save and grow your business or personal wealth,” he says. “That’s essential to our economy and our livelihoods as people.”

Guildner encourages anyone looking to manage finances, take out a loan, or grow their business to connect with a First Fed commercial team member to experience the value of community banking firsthand.

First Fed is a Member FDIC and Equal Housing Lender.

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