Skip to main content

Expansion Executive

December 3, 2014


By Mark Calvey

Expansion Executive

Michael Walker joined City National Bank earlier this year to oversee the bank's Bay Area operations, which employs more than 200 people. City National, with $31 billion in assets, has been expanding its Bay Area branch network and services for the technology sector and venture capitalists. City National entered the Bay Area in 1999 and has a dozen offices in the region, including recent additions in Pleasanton and San Francisco's South of Market area. Walker, who previously worked at U.S. Bank in San Francisco, also is a member of City National's 21-member executive committee. At U.S. Bank, he was president of the Northern California region from 2005 until 2013 and head of the company's corporate banking business on the West Coast.

Business strategy

How's business? Business is going well for us in the Bay Area, with loans up recently 18 percent and deposits up 13 percent companywide. We're benefiting from the Bay Area's vibrant business community. We've ringed the Bay with our 12 branches. We're always looking to grow, but we're everywhere we need to be. Our technology business and small business lending are very strong. We've hired 20 people since I joined in April, expanding our commercial and private banking offices in San Jose and adding staff in Palo Alto and San Francisco. I couldn't be more optimistic about our future.

Are we in a bubble? Businesses are inherently cyclical, but I don't see any slowdown in terms of local dynamics. The confluence of financial capital, intellectual capital and people's desire to live here makes the Bay Area unique.

Biggest challenge for your business? Technology continues to change our business as it does with so many businesses. Staying current with technology and keeping up with trends is both a challenge and an opportunity. I don't know whether my three kids, ages 12 to 22, will ever go into a bank branch.

What's going to change at your company in the next year? We'll continue to grow and be more relevant in the Bay Area. Whenever you add new talent, it prompts change and change is good. You get new people on board with new ideas and new approaches.

How do things change with new people joining the bank? Bringing new clients into City National Bank is half art and half science. Everyone has the science down for the most part, but typically it's the art that wins the deal, whether it's the personal relationship that a banker develops with a new client or the ability to find a unique way to solve a problem.

Company goal yet to be achieved? We're on a journey with the destination to be the most recommended financial provider. It's something you keep striving for, so if we feel we're getting close to our goal, we'll move the goal post further out. You want to have fair but stretch goals.

How did you get into banking? My father was a small business owner in Mansfield, Ohio, where I grew up. He adored and revered his banker. My father and a business partner owned a vending machine company that owned and stocked vending machines. My desire to be a banker is one of those early premonitions: I wanted to be the guy behind the desk. I remember joining my father in a meeting with his banker. I remember wanting to be the banker.

Management philosophy

Why people like working for you?I'm tough but fair. I like to get diverse points of view around the table and build consensus. But when we make a decision, we're very clear on where we're heading.

Why people don't like working for you? Tough but fair. (Laughs) Don't suffer fools. I expect my people to know their clients, know their numbers and know their business. A banker should be a trusted adviser.

Most inspiring entrepreneur? Steve Jobs.

Judgment calls

Best business decision? Clearly, joining City National Bank.

Hardest lesson learned and how you learned it? Early in my career, I went through a number of significant bank mergers. I learned to stay very focused on my goals and what I could control and let go of those things that I could not control.

Toughest business decision? In those mergers, having to make talent decisions on very objective information that were still very emotional because it involved people I knew. But you had to make decisions based on facts and data, not emotions.

True confessions

Like best about job? The people I get to meet, from small business owners to technology executives. I have the opportunity to meet really great people.

Like least about job? Administrivia.

First choice for a new career? Architect.


Most influential book? "Stress Test: Reflections on the Financial Crisis," by Timothy Geithner.

Favorite causes? Jewish Vocational Services in San Francisco and the National Hispanic University Foundation in San Jose.

Favorite restaurant? Out the Door in San Francisco's Fillmore district.

Favorite way to spend free time? With my family.

Favorite music? Eagles, Beatles, Black-Eyed Peas.

Automobile? Lexus GS 350 F Sport, 2014, silver.

Michael Walker

Regional executive for Northern California, City National Bank

HQ: Los Angeles

First job: Lifeguard and swim coach

Education: Bachelor's degree in foreign service from Georgetown University

Residence: San Francisco

Mark Calvey covers banking and finance for the San Francisco Business Times.