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ABASD Best Board Chair of the Multiverse: Banking on First Citizen’s Jeni Burgess

Being a small business owner can be filled with challenges, expected and unexpected, and First Citizens Bank Senior Vice President/Manager of Business Jeni Burgess knows that well.

The Board Chair of the Asian Business Association of San Diego owned two small businesses in San Diego in the 1980s, an office furniture/office equipment store and a sheet metal company.

Jeni Burgess
Board Chair
Asian Business Association of San Diego

Running those companies meant facing myriad challenges, said Burgess, who immigrated with her family from the Philippines to San Diego when she was 10 years old.

Especially going back 40 years ago, running companies wasn’t always easy for a Filipino American woman business owner.

She said those hard times are some of what drives her now for ABASD, which honored her as Board Chair of the Multiverse at the group’s May 19 gala at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

Founded in 1990, ABASD represents the interests of more than 30,000 Asian Pacific Islander-owned businesses in San Diego County.

“The Asian Business Association of San Diego is extremely important,” said Burgess, 61, who first joined its ranks in the 1990s, left because of other responsibilities, then came back again seven years ago, pulled back – as what she terms “a retread” – by fellow ABASD board member Robert Ito.

Burgess said she returned to the board fold with the ABASD to support its staff that continued to work to do “great things for the Asian business community.”

“I have a passion to affect change,” she said. “And the ABASD has a good team, a good staff. Oh my gosh, the hardest working staff. They are everywhere all the time. They’re the best.”

Burgess said she continues to use her passion and experience as an advocate to champion underrepresented businesses and communities.

That passion was brought to the forefront during the Covid-19 pandemic when Asian American Pacific Islander small businesses in San Diego County faced countless hurdles.

“Jeni Burgess has served as board chair during one of the most difficult times of the organization,” said ABASD gala host and emcee Lee Ann Kim.

Burgess years earlier had laid down the groundwork for preparing business owners, when she worked at Wells Fargo Bank. At Wells Fargo for more than 20 years, Burgess was able to get an initial $50,000 buy-in from the bank to help fund the ABASD’s Small Business Development Center in 2017.

Then, once the SBDC was up and running with robust programs “teaching marketing and so much more,” Burgess said, and bringing in new hires like Wesley Quach as director, Wells Fargo kicked in another $50,000.

She was also board chair when ABASD needed a new president and CEO – and that’s when the group hired Jason Paguio, just months before COVID-19 changed the world.

“By 2019, we were able to hire Jason Paguio and when the pandemic hit, we had a full blown SBDC,” Burgess recalled. “We had created an alliance with the Black and Hispanic chambers of commerce so when the pandemic hit, with Wes and a few other people on staff, were able to deliver much needed PPP (Paycheck Protection Program, a government fund) to a lot of these small businesses and that was so important.

“We were the facilitators through different financial institutions to help them and if their bank couldn’t do it, we were able to connect them with institutions where they could.”

Burgess said at the point, ABASD had reached a level of “significance, where the city of San Diego saw us as an organization that can deliver programs and help us through the pandemic.”

Those weren’t the only times Burgess made a big difference.

In the 1990s, with the Small Business Economic Development Corporation behind her, Burgess created and led 33 banks in a coalition where members pooled their money with the idea of targeting funds for underrepresented businesses and organizations.

The effort begun by Burgess became a model program, recognized nationally, and in 1995, she was named the Small Business Financial Services Advocate of the Year.

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