Bank on it: Local branch of City National features female powerhouses

March 2012

There's an advertisement making the rounds in local publications that contains a photo of four women posing among a guitar, microphone and road cases used to transport musical equipment. At first glance, one might think this stylish foursome is promoting their new album or an upcoming show. But while it is true that Holly Bell, Mandy Gallagher, Diane Pearson and Lori Badgett frequent Douglas Corner, The Bluebird Cafe and the Grand Ole Opry, they're not the onstage talent--they're the talent's bankers. 

Their jobs at City National Bank involve much more than crunching numbers--they even get to go to the Grammys! "I've been backstage at the Opry with clients making their first appearance, and I'm the one crying like a baby," says Pearson, senior relationship manager in the entertainment division at City National Bank. 

"You can meet with someone and open accounts with them all day long," says Badgett, the other senior relationship manager at the newly established (the local office opened last year) Music Row bank. "But until you see what they do, you don't get it." 

Badgett and her colleagues also often have to decide whether they think potential clients will make it in the business. Armed with demo CDs, gut feelings and the ability to recognize when a songwriter or artists is linked with the right industry players, they determine whether it's safe to loan money to a starving musician with bad credit. 

"One we see a team [managers, lawyers, etc.] develop around an artist, there's going to be a certain level of success," Badgett says. "Even if that artist's credit is beat up from the past, when they have a business manager and a new revenue stream, it's a new day, and we look at it that way."

Though entertainment divisions at other financial institutions do the same, one could argue that City National--due to a stories history that began decades before it opened its Nashville doors--understands the entertainment industry's needs better than most. Launches in 1954 by a group of Beverly Hills entrepreneurs, City National quickly solidified its position as "The Bank to the Stars". In the 1960s, the bank advanced Frank Sinatra the ransom money to free his kidnapped son, and in the 80s, it delivered the financing for Oscar-winning films The Silence of the Lambs and Driving Miss Daisy. Today, City National's entertainment industry clients include artists, songwriters, labels, publishers, producers, talent agencies and trade groups. In addition to its large California presence and its budding Nashville one, the bank has offices in New York City, Nevada, and most recently, Atlanta. 

"In New York and L.A., City National's clients really are a 'Who's Who' of the significant pop and rock artists," Badgett says. "We're going after the Nashville market, which reflects, generally speaking, about 60 percent country, 20 percent Christian and then 20 percent rock, pop and other." 

Although City National long toyed with the idea of coming to Nashville, the institution ultimately ventured into this market because of Bell's initiative. In 2008, Bell, who then led a Nashville team of private bankers at Wells Fargo, noticed that her clients' needs weren't being met. So, the Indiana farm girl--who majored in Agricultural Economics at Purdue and initially aspired to be on the floor of the Chicago Board of trade--set out to find a bank committed to consistently satisfying client demands. She contacted Martha Henderson, longtime head of City National's entertainment division, and created a business plan, which she submitted to City National's board. By early 2011, she began assembling a team. 

"I made a list of who I wanted on my team, and Diane and Lori were at the top of that list," says Bell, now senior vice president of entertainment and manager of City National's Nashville and Atlanta offices. For Badgett and Pearson, who'd been with Nashville's SunTrust entertainment division for 15 and 20 years, respectively, the decision to join City National wasn't an easy one. After all, Badgett, a mother of two who grew up in Nashville, went through SunTrust's management training program right out of college at the University of Tennessee. And Pearson, a Kentucky native who moved to Nashville in high school, joined SunTrust on a part time basis while attending college. (Gallagher, the fourth woman in the aforementioned photo, is a junior relationship manager who also came from SunTrust.)

Today, Badgett and Pearson couldn't be happier. They, along with Bell, say they feel blessed to be a part of Nashville's tight-knit music community. Additionally, they're pleased to be affiliated with a bank that allows them to place their clients' needs first, even if that means accepting calls 24/7. 

"If you need something, you call your banker on her personal cell phone, and we take care of it," Pearson says. "We send cash by courier or we deliver it ourselves." 

The bottom line, they say, is they get to help people reach for the stars. And that's worth every penny. 


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