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Veteran-owned business client reflects on three generations of success

4 Minute Read

Bill Gershen completed his active duty in the military more than 50 years ago, but the military has been a daily presence in his life ever since.

Gershen, who served in the Air Force from 1961 to 1965, as well as seven years in the reserves, is President of Vanguard, which sells ribbons, medals, patches, challenge coins and many other accoutrements to the U.S. Airforce, Army, Marines, Navy, National Guard and all other uniformed services.

“The main thrust of our business is providing all members of the uniformed services of the United States with anything that goes on their garments,” Gershen said. “We carry literally 50,000 line items. Anything that goes onto any garment, we produce and supply it for that branch of service.”

Bill Gershen, President of Veteran-owned business, Vanguard
Vanguard President Bill Gershen at the company’s offices in Carlsbad, California.

Gershen is the third generation of his family to run the veteran-owned business, Vanguard. The company was started in 1918 by his grandfather, Bernard, who had been a tailor in Poland before moving to New York City. Bernard became a specialist in sewing gold lace on Naval officer uniforms and launched Vanguard with a friend who sold buttons.

Gershen’s father, Al, joined the company in 1943 and Gershen joined in 1965 after completing his Air Force duty.

The veteran-owned business has grown nicely over the years, Gershen said, and has about 350 employees. The headquarters are in Carlsbad, which is just north of San Diego and is where Gershen is based, and Vanguard has a major presence in Norfolk, Virginia, and small locations in Florida and Hawaii.

Vanguard sells its products through stores at U.S. military installations around the world as well as through its website.

“We develop new items as technology evolves, but the vast majority of the things we sell today were the same 20, 30, or 50 years ago,” Gershen said. “A captain’s eagle is the same today as it was when we launched in 1918.”

Vanguard has long supported various military charities worldwide, Gershen said, and also provides scholarships for children of military members.

The company has been a Union Bank client since 1996. Today, Vanguard works with Anthony Friel, a Marine Corps veteran, in the Union Bank Commercial Banking group and Gershen also maintains personal accounts with The Private Bank, working with Craig Ward.

“The people we’ve dealt with through Union Bank over the years have been a pleasure to work with,” Gershen said. “They made a point of learning our business and understanding what we would like to do. They’ve eased every acquisition we’ve taken over the years and made things much easier than our previous banking experiences.”

Gershen said the partnership with Union Bank has helped him grow the business.

“I think our expansion was in part due to the input, advice and wisdom of our Union Bank bankers.”


Written by Erik Battenberg