How I Made It: Billy O'Grady, City National Bank Tech Start-up Advisor
Billy O'Grady, 31, heads the Southern California technology and venture capital banking group at City National Bank. Based in Santa Monica, O'Grady advises technology start-ups and their employees on banking and wealth management decisions. He also helps companies get money between fundraising rounds through venture debt financing deals. His position is a new one for the 60-year-old Los Angeles bank, which is trying to attract clients from technology communities in Silicon Valley, Boston and New York as well. Clients include eco-friendly-focused retailer Honest Co. and YouTube network MiTu.
An inspirational father: O'Grady grew up in the industrial hub of Rochester, N.Y., home to companies such as Xerox Corp. and Eastman Kodak Co. His father owned a 55-employee heating and air conditioning contracting firm that catered to many of the region's bigger names. Employees' families became part of the O'Grady clan, gathering a few times a year for barbecues and games of dodgeball and kickball. "He was very proud of the fact that it wasn't just him, that everyone who was helping this company succeed could enjoy their lives," O'Grady said.
Buying innovation: While attending St. John Fisher College in Rochester during the early 2000s, O'Grady started working at Kodak's digital healthcare unit. He saw Kodak purchase two smaller companies whose technology was of interest rather than develop new tools in-house. "It jump-started my interest in working in the innovation community," O'Grady said.
Dog food: After graduating with a bachelor's degree in sports management, he had two issues to tackle. His mom wanted him to find a job in healthcare insurance, and he wanted to leave Rochester. "I wanted to see the rest of the world, experience different cultures and go to a city that was on the up and up and more prone to be a melting pot," he said.
He secured a job at Petco Animal Supplies Inc. in San Diego, analyzing data to find ways to optimize sales, perhaps by asking a vendor to raise the price of a dog food package that sold well or reassess bags that didn't. In working with vendors using natural ingredients to disrupt traditional practices, he had another taste of innovation. "When you get into it, you realize there are more dogs in this world than kids," he said. "It really put me at the forefront of enjoying entrepreneurism."
Chance meeting: As fires ravaged San Diego in 2007, the parents of one of O'Grady's roommates had to evacuate. They settled on their daughter's couch, where O'Grady conversed with the father as they watched "Nacho Libre." The father worked at Silicon Valley Bank and sized up O'Grady as having the perfect mix of zeal for working with entrepreneurs and data analysis skills. O'Grady soon became an entry-level "grinder" at the bank in San Diego. He leveraged high turnover to ask for additional duties, and eventually became vice president. "If I didn't, I would have never accelerated my career," O'Grady said. "I wouldn't have been on my boss' radar."
The big leap: As O'Grady sat across from start-up founders for six years, the desire to build something of his own kept gnawing at him. At City National Bank's burgeoning technology group, he finally has a start-up-like challenge. He started in June. "We're growing our brand name and making sure people really know that what sets us apart is we bank the whole company, and that's its employees, its founders," O'Grady said. "From Day One ... until the point at which they are acquired for a nice payday."
Ballplayer: With his dad coaching, O'Grady played the shortstop position in baseball starting at age 5. He idolizes 40-year-old Derek Jeter and still dreams of becoming the general manager of the New York Yankees — the only job that would prompt him to quit his own. "The discipline that guys like Don Mattingly and Jeter have and how they carry themselves with dignity and poise has rubbed off on me," he said.
O'Grady had planned to become a sports agent, but a media relations internship at the minor league Rochester Red Wings made him think too much about the business of the game and forget his love for the on-field action. He still supports his hometown by holding shares in the publicly owned team.
Advice: "Put your head down, work hard, find an industry you love and surround yourself with smart people and then smarter people."