Glenn Gray, the CEO of Tustin-based Sunwest Bank, says part of his bank’s success could be traced to the mid-2000s, when the then-difficult decision was made to stop making construction loans.
“It was a little painful because that style of lending had been profitable,” says Gray, who heads Orange County’s largest community bank and was recently named Banker of the Year by the American Banking Association. “But we knew the housing bubble was going to burst, that there was an oversupply of real estate. At some point in time, the music was going to stop.”
Without the worry of risky housing-related loans, Sunwest repositioned itself to focus on long-term relationships in order to build a client base that would be sustainable through even difficult business cycles.
Gray says the effort was helped by the turmoil experienced by other banks during the subprime mortgage meltdown, which allowed Sunwest to recruit seasoned relationship managers who were still longing to do business and had clients to bring with them.
“We have a good story, and bankers like to lend,” Gray says of his successful recruiting efforts that brought eight new banking executives to Sunwest.
During the financial turmoil, Sunwest executives also made a list of prospective banks that were in trouble financially and would be attractive to acquire. After informing the FDIC of its interest, Sunwest acquired three failed banks – MetroPacific Bank in Irvine; Pacific Coast National Bank in San Clemente, and First State Bank in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Today, Sunwest has about $600 million in assets and 140 employees.