August 19, 2017


A Surprise Sale for City National Bank

Leonard Abess Jr.
City National Bank of Florida
Founded: 1946
Headquarters: Downtown Miami
Assets: $2.75 billion
Employees: 400
Bank offices: 18 in south Florida,
with plans for branches in Orlando and Stuart

[Photo: Daniel Portnoy]

Leonard Abess Jr. has been a popular man. As chairman and CEO of City National Bank of Florida, he received at least one serious overture each year for the past six years. Each time, Abess spurned the advances. And so it came as a surprise to many when Abess announced in April that Caja Madrid, the second-largest bank in Spain, was buying City National for $1 billion.

With more than $2.75 billion in assets, City National ranked among the largest community banks in the country and was one of the few remaining independent banks in Florida.

For Abess — son of the bank’s co-founder — the deal had several selling points: It will not prompt a change in name or management team. Abess will continue to run the bank and will retain his title and a 17% stake. What’s more, local City National offices will not be closed or sold off.

“We want to be the biggest bank in Florida,” Abess says. “I’m not walking away from my customers or employees.”

The courtship between Caja Madrid and City National began more than a year ago. Immediately, the Miami banker handed out his prepared refrain: “We’re not for sale.” Nevertheless, the Spanish executives continued to court Abess, 59, whenever they traveled to Miami. Casual meetings took place over dinners, basketball games and other events.

Finally in October 2007, Abess and his wife spent time in Spain with Caja Madrid executives. They were impressed with the bank’s operations, including commitments to a number of charitable ventures. With more than $250 billion in assets, Caja Madrid plans to spend up to $480 million this year on social programs.

Neither side used investment bankers in the deal.

“They did it the old-fashioned way,” Abess says of the suitor’s low-key style. “They never pressured me.”

Tags: Miami-Dade, Banking & Finance

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