ash patel featured on the cover of california bank magazine

A Conversation with Ash Patel

An excerpt from the December 2023 issue of California Banker Magazine

Can you tell us about your journey to become the Chairman, President, and CEO of Commercial Bank of California? What inspired you to pursue a career in banking?

Some things in life happen by accident. And some things happen for a reason. I believe the key to success is knowing when to seize an opportunity, no matter the circumstance.

My career began as an accident. I came to visit my brother in the United States from my home in Zambia, Africa. It was not my intention to stay, but I did. I sent my resume out to a few banks and a woman from Bank of America — who was also from Zambia — wanted to meet me. They had an opening for a teller position and I took it.

I called my dad back home to tell him and his response was, “But remember, we are Indian and we are entrepreneurs. You can work for B of A, but I want you to find out how B of A makes money.” With that, I was curious and determined to find out how banks make money.

My curiosity took me on an adventure. I asked every banking industry executive I met how banks make money. Most only understood the transactional side of the business. It wasn’t until I received a job offer from the president of the Bank of Orange County that I got my chance to learn. I accepted a pay cut in return for a seat at the executive table and a seven-year crash course on how a bank really makes money. After years of fearless curiosity, the doors unlocked to a world of understanding that was pivotal to my success.

I set off to open my own bank and continued seizing the opportunities in front of me. After I sold that bank, I was presented with an opportunity to join Commercial Bank of California in 2013. Since then, we have grown from less than $200 million in assets in 2013 to $2.3 billion as of June 30, 2023. I attribute this growth to smart acquisitions, innovative growth into the payments industry and a really strong team that leads with an entrepreneurial mindset. Our people-centric culture played a big part in navigating the tough times and in inspiring our employees to give their very best during this growth phase.

What values and principles have guided your leadership style in the banking industry, and how have they contributed to your success at Commercial Bank of California?

My entrepreneurial nature caused me to instill an entrepreneurial mindset into the CBC team. This approach not only inspired each person to take ownership in the bank’s success, but it transformed the business. I believe, regardless of the size of the company or how institutional it may be, you should always think like an entrepreneur.

I also live and lead by the famous Winston Churchill quote, “never, never, never give up.” I love this quote because it resonates with me and my life. I’ve had many failures in my life and had I given up, I would never have made it to where I am today, and impacted as many lives as I have and grown these successful businesses. It’s more than leading by example; it’s teaching my team how I became successful and giving them the tools so they can too.

I believe in building a bank that is both purposeful and profitable. We have not wavered from that commitment, and have invested significant time and effort in developing the leadership skills to build such an organization. It is a process that is challenging, rewarding and continually evolving. We thoughtfully crafted our purpose statement, “Promote Life Wealth” and values to create an environment that promotes continuous learning and growth for our employees and stakeholders in all aspects of life — financial, intellectual, emotional, social and spiritual.

Read the rest of the interview in the recent California Bankers magazine issue here.

Nicole Inal