Lending a Helping Hand

Jorge Gonzalez | Photo: Gonzalo Villota

City National Bank of Florida president and CEO Jorge Gonzalez discusses why putting people first is the key to success in the banking industry

As a student at Florida International University (FIU), Jorge Gonzalez had plans to be an attorney. Then, during his senior year, Gonzalez worked an internship in the banking industry and his plans quickly changed. “Once I got a taste for banking there was no turning back,” Gonzalez says. “I love the fact that every day I have the opportunity to interact with so many different types of people that are doing so many different types of things. That’s not something that you find in many other jobs.”

Today, Gonzalez is president and CEO of City National Bank of Florida, a 65-year-old financial institution with more than $4.4 billion in assets. The bank has also been awarded the highest five-star “superior” rating from BauerFinancial for its outstanding financial performance and was named the Best Business Bank by the Daily Business Review.

Thinking Out Loud

Trading Words With

JORGE GONZALEZ

PHILANTHROPY
It’s everybody’s responsibility to give back.

RECESSION
Diversification, discipline, and preparation. I think recessions are inevitable and it’s just a matter of how well prepared you are to deal with recessionary periods of time.

SUCCESS
For me, unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you want to look at it, success is a never-ending goal and is primarily measured by your clients, employees, and your peers.

LATINO
Hard working. Latinos are a very important part of this country’s future.

Gonzalez believes that one of the keys to a successful institution is diversification. “Diversification is important in any business,” Gonzalez says. “I believe if it’s done correctly it reduces overall risk.” Thus, City National Bank invests in offering a wide range of services including personal banking and banking for private clients, small business banking, and corporate banking for larger enterprises, as well as real estate banking.

Gonzalez acknowledges there are some factors he and other banking executives simply cannot control such as inflation, political instability, and interest rates. “But, I think it’s our job to try to mitigate the things that are somewhat controllable, particularly in today’s rapidly changing world,” says Gonzalez, who has a degree in finance and international business from FIU and is a graduate of the Kenan-Flagler Business School executive leadership training program at the University of North Carolina.

For two decades, Gonzalez worked with Wachovia, where he served in various leadership and management roles, including regional president of Wachovia for Southeast Florida.

During his time with Wachovia, Gonzalez says he learned that banking is less about numbers and more about people. After all, it was working with people that made him fall in love with the industry in the first place.

His focus on people begins with hiring the right individuals to work at City National Bank, which has about 450 employees. “We spend a lot of time focusing on recruiting, retaining, developing, and compensating the best people,” Gonzalez says. “It’s important to not just hire for the job itself, but to make sure they can be part of the team, part of the family, part of the overall organization relative to how we behave and how we conduct business.”

Gonzalez says it’s also important to hire people who are dedicated and driven. “You want to hire people that are motivated to succeed, that have that fire in their belly and that aspire to do bigger jobs on an ongoing basis,” he says. “We want people that are going to continually push the organization in the right direction.”

Focusing on people also means taking good care of clients. And City National Bank’s model is centered on personal relationships with its clients. “It is a relationship-based business and that’s the way we approach it,” Gonzalez says. “In everything we try to do we try to put people in front of people. Even though we have different channels of providing service to our clients relative to technology, we still believe that people want to deal with people. Our clients have the cell phone numbers of our bankers.”

In 2011, City National Bank received the first Community Bank of the Year Award from the South Florida Business Journal, which recognized the bank’s contributions to the local economy. This year, the newspaper honored City National Bank with its Outstanding Community Service Award.

City National Bank has added seven locations in three years and it has been an active lender, generating more than $1 billion in new loans in 2012 alone. “At a time when South Florida, and really the whole country, was trying to work itself out of a recessionary period, that helps the overall economy,” Gonzalez explains. “We’re pretty proactive in our lending so we were helping consumers and business owners have the capital they needed to be able to operate and grow their businesses.”

A Miami native with Cuban heritage, Gonzalez extends his work to help others beyond the walls of his banks. “At City National Bank we believe as a community bank it’s our responsibility to give back to the markets that we serve and the markets that allow us to be successful,” he says.

Gonzalez says more than 75 City National Bank employees are involved in local service organizations, such as the United Way, March of Dimes, Make-a-Wish Foundation, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. Gonzalez serves on the executive committee for the United Way and the board of directors for the FIU Foundation and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Juggling a demanding career with community service is tough, especially since Gonzalez is also a family man with a wife and seven-year-old twins. “It’s all about discipline, trying to organize your time as best as possible, and trying to be a little balanced,” says Gonzalez, who was named a finalist for CEO of the Year for the last two years by the South Florida Business Journal.
“The balance part I’m still working on. My wife will confirm that,” he adds with a laugh.

“But when you’re surrounded by a good management team and good employees it allows you to free up some of your time. And there’s always time to do what’s right.”