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Close-up: John McGrath

Former community bank focuses on growth serving business community

When Ramona National Bank wanted a complete overhaul of its operations in early 2006, its board of directors turned to John McGrath.

McGrath, who is now president and CEO of the bank that has changed its name to First Business Bank, is a 30-year veteran of bank management. He was tasked with orchestrating the bank's transition from east county community bank to an institution offering business and professional services within the San Diego business community.

McGrath began by assembling an executive team with experience in that niche. The first hire was Nathan Rogge, who came from First Republic Bank and took the post of chief operating officer. In the months that followed, the bank hired Paula Berggren as chief credit officer and William Roche, III, as chief financial officer.

With the management team in place, the transition has gone smoothly, according to McGrath. The bank's name was officially changed in November 2006 and it plans on moving to its new headquarters just off the interstate 5 freeway near Carmel Valley by December.

"We feel like we've had 18 months of very dramatic change," McGrath said from behind his desk in the bank's temporary headquarters in UTC.

McGrath has a long history of developing inroads to the business and professional services market. Prior to joining First Business Bank, McGrath was president and CEO of Heritage Bank of Commerce in the Bay Area, where he helped roll four banks into one. After the combination, Heritage bank had assets worth approximately $1.2 billion, according to McGrath.

Although First Business Bank is much smaller, McGrath said he sees great growth potential in his bank's target niche despite a number of other business-oriented banks in the area.

"There's a lot of banks around, but we do feel that this is a very, very fertile market, and one that we're delighted to be in," McGrath said.

First Business Bank has approximately $75 million in assets, according to McGrath. He expects that figure to swell to $100 million by sometime next year.

First Business Bank is 91 percent owned by the Ernest Auerbach Family Trust, according to McGrath, which views its involvement in the bank as a long-term investment. McGrath said this makes the bank attractive to employees and creates an advantage because the management team won't have to be "looking over their shoulders" for potential acquisitions.

"We can grow to a considerable size without going back to the capital market," McGrath said.

Currently, the bank has 23 employees and McGrath said he expects to welcome eight to 10 new employees next year.

McGrath also said the bank aims to open one new branch per year. Currently, First Business Bank is looking closely at Carlsbad and the Hillcrest/Downtown area.

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