Columbus, Ohio USA
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Community Banker
New branch manager's neighborhood ties
add personal touch to financial services
by Jennifer Hambrick
January 2009 Issue

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Maria Avradopoulos, a guiding light for Huntington’s Short North customers.
©Photo by William Bullock

You might have seen Short North resident Maria Avradopoulos walking her dog or taking photographs around town. But chances are even better you’ve seen her at your neighborhood bank. She’s the one in the center office of Huntington Bank’s Short North branch, hard at work as that office’s new manager.
Avradopoulos, 35, brings 13 years of banking experience to Huntington’s Short North branch. She managed Huntington’s South Campus Gateway branch for three years before making the move to the Short North office. Before becoming a manager she had served as a Personal Banker in Huntington’s Westerville branch.

The drastic economic downturn of the last few months has put banks and bankers in the international spotlight. Huntington Bank’s third-quarter earnings suggest that the company is on solid fiscal footing. Still, Avradopoulos has been on hand to reassure her customers that their money is safe and says she’s on the lookout for mortgages that might not be ideal for her clients.

“If I found that there was a need for someone to refinance, who was in a product that wasn’t benefiting them in any way – they were losing money, wasting money – I would turn it over to our mortgage lender,” Avradopoulos said.

Avradopoulos takes such care with her clients in part because it’s her job, and in part because she sees them as her community, the people who live and work in the area that, in a way, she grew up with. Her father, Peter Avradopoulos, is the general manager of Best Construction and property holders Short North Real Estate and Gahanna Gateway. His success in business is a classic Horatio Alger story: he left his native Greece for America in 1969 in search of opportunities for prosperity and stability. Maria remembers her parents’ stories about life in the Greek village of Volos: her father and grandfather would push a cart through narrow streets, selling candy and nuts to make money. As a young girl, her mother would pick cotton in the heat, her fingertips splitting open from repeated encounters with the cotton bolls’ hard shells.

When Peter Avradopoulos arrived in the United States he moved into a duplex in Clintonville and eventually purchased his first commercial property in the university area. He started adding properties in the Short North in 1984 and has managed properties in the area ever since. About ten years ago, he even moved his own residence to the Short North, and he’s never thought of living anywhere else in America.

“I made Columbus my hometown and since then I just liked it here. I just kind of stuck around,” Peter Avradopoulos said.

Maria thinks her father took to the Short North so strongly because it reminded him of home.

“The village (Volos) is not as modernized as the Short North, but it’s kind of like the Short North in the sense that it’s very tight-knit. Everyone knows if there’s someone new, someone’s visiting, something’s going on, and they’re always right there to help out. And I think that’s the way the Short North is, too,” Avradopoulos said.

Maria has been involved with her father’s business for as long as she can remember. Even as a seven-year-old she would follow her dad to their garage to be with him while he worked on home improvement projects.

“I wasn’t really helping him because I was way too young,” Maria said, “but I always wanted to help him.”

After leaving home to attend Ohio State and, later, Franklin University, Avradopoulos would visit her father at his office in the Short North, or meet him for lunch at a nearby restaurant.

“I would go in and see how he was doing, I’d see my dad, so it’s kind of like I’ve been in the Short North for twenty-some years,” she said.

When Avradopoulos got into banking in her early 20s, she started reviewing the account books of her father’s companies, double checking her father’s work balancing the books. She still looks at her father’s business ledgers twice a month to make sure everything checks out.

Maria can’t help but see the dividends her father’s work has paid for him, his family and his community. His work developing properties in the Short North and helping to transform the area from Skid Row to SoHo showed her what sweat equity and community involvement can accomplish. And she says living – and now also working – so close to her father reminds her of his commitment to the area he helped build.

“Dad just has this vision of knowing that he can make something out of almost nothing,” Avradopoulos said. “He’s my best friend and he’s taught me everything I know as far as work ethic goes, and having him so nearby is inspirational.”

Her father’s inspiration in part fuels the care with which Avradopoulos develops relationships with her clients. As a branch manager, she is charged with the specialized task of developing relationships with Huntington’s small business clients and prospective clients. She says she aims to spend at least two full days each week visiting her clients and their businesses, learning about how those businesses are run, the products and services they peddle, and their owners’ long-term plans for corporate growth. Avradopoulos says she wants to know as much as she can about a business so she can keep its owners informed of Huntington products and services that can help them.

“It’s about getting to know what they do in their own lives, in their own businesses and what’s been working well,” Avradopoulos said. “I love to get out and visit those businesses and just find out how they function, what they do on a daily basis.”

Avradopoulos visited one of her small business clients, the Short North’s Three Dog Bakery, in August, right after bakery co-owners Susan and Doug Oilar had opened their business in July and right after Avradopoulos had taken over Huntington’s Short North Branch.

“She just took it upon herself,” Susan Oilar said of Avradopoulos’ visit.

Oilar also says Avradopoulos stops in about once a week, sometimes even with Bella, her two-year-old beagle, just to say hello.

As much as Maria and her father love the Short North and its people, they do occasionally need a break and sometimes take vacations together. Three years ago, both as first-time skiers, they took a ski trip together in Colorado. Although the learning curve, like the mountains around them, was steep, they survived with stories to tell.

“It was something that we both really enjoyed,” Maria Avradopoulos said.

When she’s not visiting her clients’ small businesses, reviewing her father’s business accounts or skiing, Maria looks at life through a camera’s lens. When Three Dog Bakery hosted Barkers’ and Beggars’ Night, a Halloween Trick-or-Treat for dogs, Maria brought her camera and took pictures of the event, just for fun.

“I told her about the event and she asked if she could come and take pictures,” said Susan Oilar. “She definitely does go above and beyond.”

Avradopoulos also supports her photography passion by displaying other photographers’ work on the walls of her bank branch. Images by Columbus photographer David Dack Maki are currently on display at the Short North Huntington. For Maria, it’s all about supporting her community.

“I’m just excited to give that kind of support back to people,” Avradopoulos said. “Someone at some point gave my dad a chance, so I in turn feel like that has to happen as well. I want to give that kind of support whenever I can.”

And in today’s economy, that may mean helping people sleep better at night by knowing their money is safe. Maria says she’s on the ready.

“My dad has always taught me to support the community and that’s what I want to do,” Avradopoulos said. “Hopefully I can do that through helping them with their finances. That in itself just makes me very happy to know that I can help somebody if they have an issue or problem. That’s why I am where I am.”

© 2008 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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