Nice Guys Finish First


Every once in a while, nice guys do finish first. You could ask Charlie Collum about this, but hes too nice a guy to ever think it might apply to himself. 

But the Alexandria native and Chairman of the Board of Burke and Herbert Bank is a living example of the successes that can be had through a lifetime of hard work and a commitment to family and the community.

I only planned to work for a year or two and then go to college, but I never stopped working, said Collum, whos distinguished banking career began nearly a half century ago at the Alexandria National Bank, a job he took after graduating from St. Johns High School in 1960. 

My first week at the bank got off to a rough start, though. I was sent to work in the basement of the bank where I was assigned to the job of filing checks by name, Collum chuckled as he recalled his rocky start in banking. My first week on the job, I dropped the whole drawer of already sorted checks on the floor. The women working down there helped me picked them all up and re-sort them. I think I became better friends with the people I worked with as a result of my dropping that drawer.

It is Collums personal connection to every level of employees as well as his customers that has made him such a respected and admired fixture in Alexandria and earned him the honor of being chosen as the 2009 Business Leader of the Year by the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, an award he will formally be presented with at a dinner October 16.

Charlies had an enormous impact on Alexandria in both business and the local community, said Tina Leone, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce. He sets the bar for excellence in leadership. Hes maintained a solid, highly successful organization and created the capability for the bank to not only survive, but thrive in these challenging economic times. We couldnt be more thrilled to have him as our Business Leader of the Year.  

An only child, Collum was born in an area of town known as New Alexandria, just south of the city limits.  He lived there for two years before moving to his grandfathers home in Rosemont and attended St. Marys School from kindergarten through eighth grade. 

His grandfather, Thomas Lannon, owned the local dry goods store that stood at the corner of Pitt and Cameron streets, while his father worked in Washington for a railroad company call the Fruit Growers Express. 

I loved growing up in Alexandria. We could ride our bikes everywhere, Collum said. I used to ride my bike from Rosemont to St. Marys every day that the weather was good and we used to love going to the movies at the Old Reed Theater near King and Commonwealth. This really was a great place to grow up.

Collum maintains that he has loved every job he has held at Burke and Herbert since he began working there in 1971. His enthusiasm for the bank, its employees and customers shows during his frequent visits to the bank lobby to meet customers.

One of my favorite things to do is go walk through the lobby and chat with customers, Collum said. Our customers are my friends and I want them to know that we appreciate them. I like talking with them. 

He also makes sure that the tellers know how important their role is in ensuring that customers are happy with the services they receive when they walk into any one of the 20 Northern Virginia branches. 

I personally talk with each teller before they start working in the branch, Collum explained. I tell them that they are coming to work for an organization that is like a family. They have an important role because our tellers are the front line of the bank. We want the tellers to use the customers names when they talk with them. It is important to let customers know that we care.

The Burke family continues to be actively involved in the bank and applaudes all that Collum has done for the institution ABC News referred to as Americas safest bank. 

Charlie Collum has been a godsend to Burke and Herbert Bank, said Hunt Burke, president and chief operating officer of Burke and Herbert. Over the past 30 years, he has helped shape the institution that we are today and has been an integral part of the banks success. Hes been involved in forming bank policies on state and national levels and hes been a champion for businesses and charities in Alexandria. For me personally, Charlie has been a valuable friend and mentor.  We all look forward to his continued involvement with the city and the bank.

After devoting 50 years of his life to banking, Collum is set to step down next April as Burke and Herberts chairman of the board.

But, I will continue to serve on the board and I will work part-time beginning in April so that there is a smooth transition, he noted. 

Collum and his wife Sandi, who met while working together at Alexandria National Bank, were married in 1966 and have two sons: Charles K. Chuck Collum III, a jeweler who lives with his wife and three children in Houston, and Joe, who lives with his wife Jennifer and their two sons in Alexandria. 

It was Joe who decided to follow in his fathers footsteps at Burke and Herbert.

It has been a special opportunity to work with my dad for the past 14 years and to be able to learn from his leadership example and have him as a mentor, Joe said. Throughout the bank, his leadership doesnt go unnoticed. He has set the bank up for future successes but it wont be the same without him working there every day.

For the foreseeable future, Collum will continue to be actively involved in his many civic and charitable pursuits that have provided him with an opportunity to get to know many of the individuals and businesses who work with the bank.

He has given a great deal of his time to numerous charitable and professional endeavors, including the Rotary Club, where he was honored as Rotarian of the Year in 2005, and the Alexandria Police Foundation. Collum and his wife co-chair the Campagna Centers Circle of Giving and he serves on the Special Gifts Committee for the Arlington Diocese. 

Additionally, Collum chaired the Capital Campaign for the Alexandria Boys and Girls Club and was a member of the Board of Trustees of Inova Alexandria Hospital. After his work load lightens up a bit, Collum plans to serve on the audit committee of the Alexandria Community Trust. 

While Collum will have many activities to keep him busy when he begins working part time, he hopes to be able to squeeze in a few more rounds of golf, spend time on his boat and perhaps go on some cruises if time permits. 

But more than anything, Collum and Sandi are looking forward to having more time to spend with their family, which now includes five grandchildren.

We enjoy spending as much time with them as possible because they are not just our sons but our closest friends, said Sandi, who is clearly proud of the nice guy she married 43 years ago. 

The first line of a recent book devoted to the 157-year storied history of the bank reads: Burke and Herbert is much more than a bank. Its a beloved Alexandria institution known for extraordinary customer service, sound business practices and a long heritage of personal trust and integrity.

No truer words could be written for Charlie Collum, the nice guy who has led by example and indeed finished first in life.