BAY RIDGE – Empire State Bank CEO Philip Guarnieri is looking forward to the Ragamuffin Parade on Sept. 28 and not just because he’s the grand marshal.
“It’s a wonderful event that brings the whole community together. There are a lot of great events here in Bay Ridge and this is a special one. It’s a testament to the people involved. They do a great job putting the parade together every year,” Guarnieri told the Home Reporter during an interview Friday morning at the bank’s branch at 8701 Third Ave.
Guarnieri was selected by the parade’s organizing committee to serve as the grand marshal of the 53rd Annual Ragamuffin Parade, an honor that means he gets to lead all of the marchers as they make their way up Third Avenue. The parade route, which runs along Third Avenue, begins at 76th Street and ends on 92nd Street.
“I love it because it’s a family, community event,” Guarnieri said.
One of the most beloved traditions in Bay Ridge, the Ragamuffin Parade features hundreds of children marching wearing colorful, handmade costumes. The kids dress up as princesses, pirates, astronauts, bunnies, bears, dogs and all sorts of creatures.
The parade will be extra special for Guarnieri because he will have the thrill of marching past his bank, located on the corner of Third Avenue and 87th Street. Empire State Bank is a main sponsor of the parade.
The bank branch opened in 2014. “As a bank, we were very fortunate to get a spot on Third Avenue,” Guarnieri said.
Guarnieri grew up in Borough Park. “I’m a Brooklyn boy,” he said proudly. He attended P.S. 48, Edward Shallow Intermediate School and Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School. He earned a BA in Finance and Banking from Hunter College.
He got his start in the banking business at the age of 16, when he got a job in the stockroom at Hamilton Federal Savings, a Bay Ridge-based bank. His bosses saw his potential and over the next several years, he steadily moved up the ranks. He worked as a customer service representative, teller, assistant branch manager, assistant vice president/mortgage officer, vice president, and branch administrator.
When Hamilton Federal merged with Home Federal Savings Bank, Guarnieri moved over to Home Federal and served as a vice president there for many years. His resume also includes roles as senior vice president and chief lending officer of the Yonkers SLA, and president and COO of Atlantic States Mortgage Corp.
“I have a finance background, but the thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve had all kinds of jobs and learned every area of the business. I was a teller. I worked in retail, lending. It was good preparation,” he said.
Fifteen years ago, he decided to take all of the knowledge and experience he had garnered and establish a new bank. Empire State Bank received its charter in 2004. The Bay Ridge branch opened in 2014. Within a few years, the bank opened a branch at 6923 18th Ave. in Bensonhurst.
The bank has five branches; two in Brooklyn, two on Staten Island and one in Newburgh, New York. The bank is primarily a commercial lender. Many of its clients are small business owners.
“We live in an age of technology and a bank has to have that. But the customer also wants to come into a branch, sit with us and chat. That person-to-person contact is important,” Guarnieri said.
When he is hiring employees, he doesn’t always look for the business school graduate, or even people with banking experience. He looks for workers who demonstrate that they understand the bank’s philosophy of putting customers first. “You can teach people banking skills. You can’t teach them people skills,” he said.
The bank’s motto is “We take your business personally.”
Guarnieri said he believes very strongly in becoming involved in civic life in a community.
“When you say you’re a community bank, you have to mean it,” he said.
Guarnieri is a member of the Merchants of Third Avenue and is a director of the Grace Foundation, an organization that helps autistic children. He is on the board of directors of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, and belongs to the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation.
Guarnieri was also instrumental in the establishment of a Brooklyn chapter of the Asian Real Estate Association of America. He currently serves as the chapter’s director.