He Hasn’t Been in Our Shoes, but He Can Croon the Downsized Blues
In a sense, ex-banker Nick Binkley is still in the CD business.
Instead of working for a place that sells certificates of deposits, he’s out hustling to get his self-financed compact disc, “Pin Stripe Brain,” in record store bins and on radio stations across the country.
Once one of the nation’s top bank executives, Binkley has become something of a troubadour for the middle-age, downsized generation. It’s no doubt one of the stranger career shifts in an era when white-collar workers have been regularly moving into new fields, not always by their own choice.
With his folk rock album, Binkley bemoans the corporate life he lived for about three decades as a corporate banker.
A sampling from the song “Pin Stripe Brain”:
Grazing ‘cross the fields of high-profitability yields
Is the man with the pinstripe brain,
Wall Street prisoner,
Is the man with the pinstripe brain.
Then there’s “Chasing Circles,” in which Binkley, who plays acoustic guitar and provides lead vocals on the album, sings:
Uptown men hide behind the New York Times
And downtown ladies cross the subway lines
All chasing circles.
What makes Binkley’s transition from the executive suite to appearing on stage as head of “Nick Binkley & the Street Dogs” unusual is that he wasn’t exactly a low-level or even mid-level executive before embarking on his new career.
Rather, he was vice chairman of Los Angeles-based Security Pacific Corp., where he was in the inner circle at what was once one of the nation’s largest financial institutions. When BankAmerica Corp. agreed to buy the ailing bank in 1991, Binkley was one of the few executives named to the board of directors.
Binkley was courted to take a high-level job with BankAmerica in San Francisco, but left instead in 1993 with a $2-million golden handshake. About $50,000 of that money bankrolled the CD.
He still has a day job as a partner in Forrest Binkley & Brown, a Newport Beach venture capital firm he helped start with financial backing from the billionaire Bass family in Texas. His partners recently replaced the Mozart recording that would play when people who called in were put on hold with Binkley’s albums.
Binkley, 50, recognizes that he hasn’t suffered as other white-collar workers have, but nonetheless believes he’s capable of expressing the pain of the middle-age worker whose life is turned upside-down.
“I’m not typical of the normal middle-age guy who is downsized out of a job, and I recognize that,” Binkley says. “But I think what I write about is relevant to anybody going through being downsized in corporate America. You’re 40 or 50, wake up and sense something is missing. You got two kids in college, got a parent on the way to a nursing home and are one downsizing away from the loss of your job.”
Growing up in Altadena, Binkley started playing guitar at age 7, copying the styles of his favorite folk, country and rock musicians. At 17, he played in bands before joining the Peace Corps. After graduate school at Johns Hopkins University, he played guitar and sang in Europe before joining Chase Manhattan Bank, where he worked in New York, London and Beirut.
He left that job, studying guitar full time for a while in New York, causing his family to question his sanity. He moved back to Southern California to rejoin Security Pacific in 1977. Although he didn’t let on to his fellow executives, Binkley continued to play club dates with bands and work in studios.
“It was personal and private and just something I did. I was driven by music and almost obsessive about it. I was Dr. Binkley and Nick Hyde,” he says.
The BankAmerica deal freed him up to try to launch his music career. To produce the album, he hooked up with producer Denny Bruce, a former drummer with Frank Zappa who produced the Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Binkley has been hearing from executives across the country since he was featured last month in the American Banker publication. Many of them have their own dreams of writing novels, poetry or playing music.
“My feeling is that there is a large group of white-collar folks out there who have left their creative energy pent-up inside of them,” he says, “with no natural outlet in a corporate America struggling to find its soul in the midst of all this downsizing and cost cutting.”
James Bates writes about the entertainment industry. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org