For George H. Benter, becoming president and chief operatingn officer of City National Bank of Beverly Hills was like taking on a new family.
The institution and its close-knit management have been identified closely with the long-time chief executive, Bram Goldsmith, 69.
Mr. Goldsmith, also chairman of the parent City National Corp., has not indicated exactly when he will retire, but it is clear he now has an heir apparent.
"It would be a challenge for anyone coming in," said Campbell Chaney, an analyst at Sutro & Co. "But City National is getting big enough that it is going to have to change, to take on some new players."
Adding to the Culture
Mr. Benter, a veteran of Security Pacific Corp., says he was concerned about fitting in with the City National's culture. "Bram and I talked a lot about that," he said. "But we see some real advantages to supplementing, not altering, what is here. I feel I can be an additive."
Making his own place at City National is not the only challenge for the 50-year-old Californian. City National, until recently one of the top performing banks in the country, is awash in credit problems. Last year, it reported the first loss in its 38-year history. Nonperforming loans, mostly from real estate, have reached $229.8 million, or a hefty 9.4% of total loans as of March 31.
"City National clearly has some credut challenges and that is my main strength," said Mr. Benter. He was vice chairman and chief credit officer at Los Angeles-based Security Pacific, which merged recently with BankAmerica Corp.
Once characterized as "steady Eddie" by a colleague,Mr. Benter said he emphasized a consistent, orderly approach to things. But he said he has no magic solutions for City National.
He, like Goldsmith, doesn't expect the economy to help Southern California's bank for awhile. But he adds, "by the end of the year, we will have things in place to see major progress in reducing nonperfoming loans."
He also wants to work on bolstering City National's management ranks and reestablishing marketing momentym after a lull caused by the slumping economy and the emphasis on credit woes. He also would like to pare expenses, but does not expect any layoffs.
Mr. Benter hopes to guide City National into growing beyond its core of real estate and middle-market clients around its headquarters in Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles.
Staying in the Region
"We can be as successful in San Diego, Orange County, Riverside County, and elsewhere as we have been on the West Side," said Mr. Benter. He added that "we will stay in Souther California for the foreseeable future."
Mr. Benter, who has an MBA from the University of California at Los Angeles, spent his entire career at Security Pacific, joining in 1965 as a commercial loan trainee. He worked as a commercial lender, went into Security Pacific's nonbanking business units, took charge of trust and property management, and founded the company's discount brokerage business.
He was chief credit officer from 1984 to 1987, when he became vice chairman. In June 1991, Security Pacific brought him back as chief credit officer.
After the merger with Bank America, he was tapped to run consumer and commercial finance at the combined entity. Though City National's $4.3 billion in assets makes it only about 2% the size of BankAmerica, he calls it "a very exciting place to be. It is more rewarding for me than being a small cog in a big wheel."