04/02/2013 05:14 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2013

City National Bank -- A "Neighborhood" Bank for the World

Its Head Preaches Building Up L.A.'s Superstructure!

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When Frank Sinatra's son was kidnapped in 1993, the singer called his banker to obtain the necessary cash for the ransom. Within an hour, the banker appeared at Frank's home with a suitcase containing $240,000 in cash. The ransom was paid, the son was released, and the kidnappers were captured. The banker at City National Bank only charged his client the $2,000, which was missing from the returned cash. Just another example of the personal service for which that bank is noted. Many years ago, when I was active in producing a raft of motion pictures, I began banking with what I thought of as a neighborhood bank in Beverly Hills, City National. I remember an evening when my friend, Ginny Mancini, and I dined with the bank's president, Bram Goldsmith and his lovely wife at the Hollywood Bowl, and I was struck by how widely the banker's knowledge ranged... from opera to films to politics and economics.

As the years went on the bank performed many services small and large for me, from helping to finance purchasing a few vintage Silver Cloud Rolls Royces to buying and selling a house. Foreign wire fates were handled expeditiously, and all manner of banking processes went seamlessly. As I said before, the bank is famous for its personalized services for its clients. I recall an incident when a bank executive rushed to LAX airport to deliver $10,000 in lira to a celebrity client going to Italy. To this day their services are solid and sometimes unique. (I can actually take a photograph of a check with my iPhone and email it to the bank for deposit, although I personally prefer to visit the drive-up window on Roxbury to see the girls there while making a deposit or withdrawal.) Just this week I need to have my new will witnessed and notarized, walked into the bank's lobby without an appointment, found a charming 10-year veteran of the bank, Edita Aleksanyan, a notary who gathered up three witnesses, and accomplished it quickly. I rewarded them all with a symbolic lucky rare $2 bill, a bundle of which the bank had gotten me for my Chinese New Year red gift envelopes. (Silver dollars are harder to get.)

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The bank's CEO, Russell Goldsmith, with wife Karen (an author) at a recent event.

The bank's chairman and CEO, Russell Goldsmith, was honored last week by the L.A. Business Journal as "Businessman of the Year 2013." Goldsmith, 63, was a veteran of the movie business in 1995 when he took over as bank head from his father. Russell had graduated from Harvard Law School and worked as an entertainment attorney, then became head of a moribund movie company, Republic Pictures, in 1985. He built up their production and library business and sold it to Aaron Spelling in 1993 for $93 million. That is when his father finally enlisted him to run the bank, then with $5 billion in assets, now grown to $29 billion, becoming the largest private commercial and business bank in Southern California, with 3,400 employees in 78 branches in six states. New York is about to get its first City National branch. I was impressed when he first initiated their new motto, "The Way Up," symbolized by a ladder. (He wears a ladder pin in on his navy blue suit.)

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Russell and Bram Goldsmith, a fine father-and-son team.

Last weekend, the bank held a conference downtown entitled, "Insight One 20," a definitive business conclave aimed at helping small businesses from $1 million to $20 million in annual revenues to grow. Marketing whiz Seth Grodin impressed me with his keynote message, "Playing it safe is risky," a motif which I have taken to heart. Bank head Russell Goldsmith is on a mission to improve the Los Angeles' business state, which he feels is lacking in various areas. He preaches that the airport, port and transportation facilities are under-utilized and need improvement. When he moderated a meeting of potential mayorality candidates last week, he vigorously made that message again. A moderate Democrat, Goldsmith has backed President Obama and VP Joe Biden, but doesn't hesitate to briskly question some of their policies. Yes, he is a banker for the modern age. Got change for 20?

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Russell Goldsmith and President Obama.

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