Bank Sale Is Goal : Westlands Names Veteran San Diego Banker President

Times Staff Writer

Westlands Diversified Bancorp Inc., the Santa Ana holding company for Commercial Center Bank, said Thursday it has hired longtime San Diego banker E.G. Cunningham as president and chief operating officer in an effort to fatten up the bank for an eventual sale.

Cunningham, 49, who has 23 years of banking experience, takes over strategic planning for a company and a bank that have enough capital to nearly triple their current size to $1 billion in assets. Cunningham replaces Robert Heisz, who became a full-time consultant to the company.

Westlands is owned by the failed Canadian Commercial Bank in Edmonton, Alberta, which Canadian regulators closed Aug. 31. Cunningham said the court-appointed liquidator, Price Waterhouse Inc., brought him in to bolster the bank so that it can be sold several years from now.

Cunningham was the founder, chairman and president of First National Corp., the holding company for First National Bank in San Diego. That bank was the primary banker for J. David & Co., the La Jolla investment firm that collapsed in February, 1984. Owner J. David Dominelli was sentenced to 20 years in a federal prison after pleading guilty last June to three counts of mail fraud and bankruptcy fraud and one count of income tax evasion. Prosecutors said J. David investors collectively lost an estimated $200 million.

Within the last two weeks, First National Bank was added as a defendant in nine civil lawsuits by hundreds of former J. David investors seeking $247 million in damages.

Cunningham said he left First National last May for "a larger opportunity" as president at Great American Bank in Los Angeles. He said the J. David scandal had "absolutely" nothing to do with his departure from San Diego.

But he quit Great American on Jan. 17 over differences with directors over the bank's long-term growth. Price Waterhouse, he said, sought him out, and he joined Westlands on Feb. 20.

Year-end financial figures have not been posted yet, but Commercial Center Bank had $376.6 million in assets and $70.5 million in capital at the end of the third quarter Sept. 30, Cunningham said.

He said Price Waterhouse was bringing him in for his marketing and planning abilities. He led First National's asset growth from $17.2 million in 1981 to $103.1 million by the end of 1984.

The emphasis on marketing by Commercial Center Bank also was helped by the recent hiring of Lloyd Miller as a bank vice president. Miller, who came from Mission Viejo National Bank, also has a marketing background, said Gerry Findley, a Brea financial institutions consultant.

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