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Michael Towbes Named Ernst & Young Regional Entrepreneur of Year

The Montecito Bank & Trust chairman is recognized for excellence in the financial services category

Expressing his trademark modesty and humility at just being a finalist for Ernst & Young’s 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Michael Towbes — one of the South Coast’s top entrepreneurs — said he was quite pleased at winning the prestigious honor this week in the financial services category for the greater Los Angeles area.

Michael Towbes
Michael Towbes (Towbes.com photo)

“I was very excited and pleased,” said Towbes, a Montecito resident and chairman of Montecito Bank & Trust. “It wasn’t just a local award for Santa Barbara, but from nominees from all of Southern California.”

Announced at a Tuesday night gala at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles, the award is one of the most prestigious internationally and celebrates business people who are building and leading the most dynamic firms, according to officials from Ernst & Young, a 144,000-employee worldwide assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services firm.

Asked if he expected to win because of his many years in business, Towbes said, “I don’t think you can take anything for granted.”

Towbes, who will turn 81 next month, said several family members and some key employees surrounded him at the awards banquet.

“It is an award I share with the dedicated people I work with each and every day,” he said. “Our successes at Montecito Bank & Trust and The Towbes Group are what enable us to give back to our communities in such a meaningful way.”

Thirty-five years ago, Towbes started Montecito Bank & Trust, which has become a nearly $950 million financial institution with eight branches. While giving about $1 million to nearly 100 nonprofit groups each year, the company also operates a Wealth Management Division.

In comparing present conditions to last year’s dismal economy, Towbes said he believes things are starting to turn around, with the need to find more jobs being the biggest challenge.

“Things are slowly getting better,” he said, “but we have a ways to go.”

His company started construction on a 108-unit apartment complex in Ventura late last year, which is expected to be completed soon. A 211-unit apartment complex in Santa Maria and another similar 100-unit facility in Goleta are “being processed for approval” by those respective cities, Towbes said.

A 25,000-square-foot building addition for the Goleta-based firm ATK, which made NASA’s Mars Rover, is near completion, he said.

From Lompoc and Santa Maria to Ventura and Westlake Village, The Towbes Group owns 1.5 million square feet of commercial real estate and 2,000 multifamily residential units. It runs four shopping centers, and its operations include a real estate investment fund called Towbes Capital Partners.

In April 2009, Towbes unveiled Sumida Gardens, a 200-unit workforce housing complex in Goleta.

Born July 17, 1929, in Washington, D.C., Towbes marked his 80th birthday last year with 700 well-wishers at a gala to raise more funds for The Granada, one of his favorite charities.

He led a $60 million fundraising effort to renovate The Granada, at 1216 State St, but his charity work has involved a variety of groups, including the Cottage Hospital Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara, the Lobero Theatre Foundation, SBCC, UCSB and radio station KDB.

Towbes has said he wants to be remembered mainly for his philanthropy, which has taken up a great deal of his time. He said he attends daily meetings with his staff and remains very much on top his company’s dealings.

Towbes began his first company in 1956 in Los Angeles with Eli Luria. He moved to Santa Maria when he heard of that area’s need for housing. He became a Montecito resident in 1960 with his first wife, Gail, who died in 1996.

As a greater Los Angeles area award winner, Towbes is now eligible for consideration for the Ernst & Young LLP Entrepreneur of the Year 2010 national program. Award winners in several national categories, as well as the overall national Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award winner, will be announced at the annual awards gala in Palm Springs on Nov. 13.

Noozhawk contributor Ray Estrada can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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