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Posted: January 01, 2010

Executive Edge: Doug Price

Ex-banker makes tough calls as CEO of Rocky Mountain PBS

Lynn Bronikowski

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Watching "Schindler's List" would forever change Doug Price, a former banker and founding chairman of Qualistar Early Learning who this month marks his first anniversary as president and CEO of Rocky Mountain PBS.

"I was a reasonably selfish capitalist," said Price, 53, who became president of FirstBank of Boulder in 1982 and was promoted to president of FirstBank of Denver in 1988. "But seeing that movie about a very humanly flawed individual who makes an important decision leads you to alter the way you behave."

Price retired in 1999 as president of FirstBank of Colorado to pursue his passion as founding chairman of Denver-based Qualistar, a nonprofit that developed a standardized rating system for child-care facilities.

"I held to a belief that only when stories are heard can progress be made, so I spoke all around the country about the importance of early childhood education," said Price, who stayed with Qualistar until 2006 and took a year off before emerging as head of the local station that brings "Sesame Street" and other educational programming to the masses.

"I have no desire to be Lou Grant," Price said of the hardened newsman in the old TV series. "But I did have a desire to have other voices heard. I saw this as one of the great platforms in the state to serve the community. We're nothing more than a community foundation, but rather than giving money, we have impressions to give - 600 million impressions a year."

Price came to the helm facing a $1.5 million budget shortfall and a recession that spawned a 15 percent drop in program underwriting.

"In my first 100 days, I had to lay off 25 percent of the staff," said Price, who trimmed staff to 66 full-time employees, primarily by eliminating telemarketers and part-time seasonal fundraising staff. "At FirstBank, I never laid anyone off, so it was one of the most humbling things I've ever had to do. It got me in the gut."

A seventh-generation Coloradan whose family's agricultural and ranching roots date to 1864 in Montrose, Price himself came from humble beginnings. He spent his early childhood in Orlean, France, where his father was in the Air Force.

"When I lived in France, it was a tough, hardscrabble place. We played in buildings that were rubble from World War II," said Price, who speaks fluent French and is on the executive committee of French American Foundation, which aims to improve relations between France and the United States. "And as a 7-year-old, I'd haul coal to heat our home. We did whatever it took."

The family of nine returned to Colorado where his father was part of the design team for NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). Price graduated from Lewis Palmer High School in Monument, earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration from the University of Colorado and attended the Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington.

He said he landed his first job with FirstBank at age 19, "rather serendipitously. I didn't have a car, and my apartment in Boulder was within walking distance of the branch." By 26, he was president of FirstBank of Boulder.

Price admits that today he's making about one-sixth of what he made in his banking days.

"But it's the greatest job I ever had," he said.

Price says Rocky Mountain PBS has about 60,000 members making 80,000 donations annually, which allows the station to operate debt-free.

"When you work here, you get to be a catalyst for change," he said. "So you could say I've gone from capitalist to catalyst."

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Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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