Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009

Leonard Abess

As governor for eight years, I had the privilege of working with many extraordinary Floridians, but few are as impressive and compassionate as Leonard Abess.

As CEO of City National Bank of Florida, he heads one of the oldest and most profitable banks in the state. Nearly 25 years ago, Leonard, 60, took charge of the bank founded by his father and turned it into a multibillion-dollar franchise with 18 offices. His conservative approach to banking has proved a welcome respite in an era that has seen insolvency and troubled balance sheets topple many of City National's counterparts.

More notable than Leonard's business prowess is his strong commitment to serving his community. One of the state's most active philanthropists, he and his wife Jayne are extremely involved in many organizations, including the Mount Sinai Medical Center, the University of Miami and the World Wildlife Fund.

While other banks have had to accept bailout funds and defend out-of-control executive compensation, Leonard has done two remarkable things. First, he sold part of his successful business for a huge profit. Second, he gave much of that profit away — to his employees. With zero fanfare, Leonard divvied up $60 million among 471 current and former City National staffers. Holding him up as the best kind of example of private-sector responsibility, President Barack Obama quoted Leonard's humble rationale for this generosity: "I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."

Bush was governor of Florida