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Karen Brassfield

Silvergate Bank officer uses her network to embrace change

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Karen Brassfield has adapted to and embraced changes in companies, titles and technology through more than 40 years in the banking industry.

Brassfield is the executive vice president and chief banking officer at Silvergate Bank.

She worked at Southern California First National Bank in 1970 at the dawn of the computer age for banking, and when calculators were a breakthrough.

“I was the first female management trainee. That’s my claim to fame,” Brassfield said.

She then went to work for HomeFed, and left two years later in charge of operations for all of HomeFed.

Brassfield was recruited to work for First National Bank, where she ran operations and worked as the controller, learning bank accounting firsthand from the chief financial officer.

“The secret to success is your network,” she said.

Brassfield was laid off 12 years later during the recession in the 1990s and moved to Dallas, where Robert Adelizzi, former president of HomeFed, recruited her to a loan servicing operations manager position.

“I had the good fortune of having a number of good mentors who took an interest in what I could do, and encouraged me to learn as fast as I could,” Brassfield said. “I sort of embrace change, and so it’s been a good place to be — lots of upward mobility for women, particularly just coming out of the '60s. I’m the '60s generation with Martin Luther King and the sexual revolution and equality. There was a lot of change that happened in the '60s, and I’m a product of that.”

She left that job to work for a mortgage company as its chief information officer. When the company went into bankruptcy, Brassfield worked with the representatives from the bankruptcy court to dissolve that business.

“[Changing positions] is something I like to do because it means I’m learning something new,” Brassfield said. She said she approaches new titles as projects.

Brassfield’s network brought her back to San Diego as the CFO for Fallbrook National Bank, which is now Pacific Western. She worked with the Securities and Exchange Commission to bring the company from a public non-listed bank to a public listed bank. Robert Horsman at San Diego National Bank recruited her about two years later to work as the bank’s chief administrative officer. She left that bank in 2006 with a job offer from Alan Lane at Southwest Community Bank. Before she was able to start, Lane told Brassfield the company had been sold and she no longer had the job.

She worked for Silvergate Bank for about six months before Adelizzi recruited her again for a position as chief information officer at the Corky McMillin Companies.

“I saw an article one day in 2008 that Alan Lane was going to work for Silvergate Bank, so I called Alan up and said, ‘Now’s the chance for you and I to finally work together,’” Brassfield said.

Three years ago, Silvergate Bank was an industrial loan chartered thrift. It is now a business commercial bank offering a full range of business accounts and services, she said.

“That’s a huge change. Every form, every product in the bank had to change. … All of the employees had to be retrained. It was the most change I have ever effected in one 12-month period of time,” Brassfield said.

Brassfield plans to retire at the end of next year, move to Denver, and go hiking and skiing.

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