Eagle To Fly From Brickell To Doral
By Peter Zalewski
April 06, 2004


Eagle National Bank plans to move its corporate headquarters from Miami’s international financial district on Brickell Avenue to South Florida’s trade hub in Doral.

The bank has signed a long-term lease — contingent upon bank regulatory approval — for 16,000 square feet in a four-story building at 8200 NW 33rd St. across the street from the headquarters of Ryder System.

Eagle National’s new offices will have 5,000 square feet more than its current space on Brickell Avenue and the bank’s new lease has an option to expand from half to the entire top floor of the building.

The new space will consolidate the bank’s top management at one location. Back office functions such as lender support group, credit administration, accounting, and information systems will also be centralized at the new headquarters.

“There is nothing better to smooth out your earnings stream and reduce volatility than going into one of the best retail markets in the country,” said Miami banking consultant Ken Thomas about Eagle National’s relocation.

Doral is unique in that it offers a combination of retail and commercial banking opportunities, said Thomas, who advises banks on branch locations. Brickell Avenue, by comparison is heavily focused on international banking, and areas such as Aventura and Kendall are solely oriented toward retail customers. Eagle National is not a client.

The bank anticipates it will occupy the Doral space before its Brickell lease expires in late June, said Robert Brookes, bank president and chief executive. The bank plans to vacate its offices on Brickell when the lease expires.

Brookes said it didn’t make sense for Eagle to pay the high price for office space on Brickell Avenue when most of the bank’s business is in western Miami-Dade.

“We need to be where our clients are,” he said. “We have clients here in the Brickell area but not as many as we do in the Doral area.”

Eagle National targets small and medium-size companies involved in international business. The 47-year-old commercial bank has assets of $273 million and five locations in Miami-Dade County.

The new, larger location is part of the bank’s plan to double assets and branches, which would require more space for employees Eagle.

Eagle National wants to be a $1 billion bank within five years to realize the operating efficiencies associated with an institution of that size, said chairman Michael Spritzer.

He said the bank intends to grow to that level by opening between five and seven branches in Miami-Dade and its first in Broward County.

In Miami-Dade, the bank is looking at the industrial areas of Hialeah, Medley, Doral and along Bird Road. In Broward, the bank is interested in Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood, Plantation and Sunrise.

Consultant Thomas said this an ideal time to add sites. Banks can afford to pay for branches out of the consistent profits they’ve collected during the last few years. Many bankers expect these profits to only increase as net interest rate margins rise with an improving economy.

Thomas said Eagle National should delay going to Broward until it first builds up its Miami-Dade presence to between seven and 10 branches. He said scattering branches far apart in two different counties creates inefficiencies related to advertising, personnel and general operations.

“They would need to get to a critical level in other critical markets in Miami-Dade before they take the ride up I-95,” Thomas said.

Eagle National also may make an acquisition or two to speed along the expansion, Spritzer said.

“We have done due diligence on two or three occasions over the last three years,” he said. “We backed off the acquisitions because we thought they were too richly priced for the earnings stream that we would acquire. In other cases, we felt there were inherent risks in the way that they did business that we were not willing to accept.”

Eagle National exited a rocky period in 1999 when Brookes was hired away from SunTrust Bank. Before Brookes, the bank went through two chief executives in six years as earnings mirrored economic ups and downs in Latin America.

Brookes was brought on by Eagle National’s controlling shareholder Jaime Gilinski — the former chairman of Key Biscayne Bank where Brookes was once president — to restructure the bank’s business model.

During the last five years, Brookes has moved Eagle National’s focus from high-risk, high-return trade finance deals to more conservative domestic real estate and commercial and industrial lending.

Trade finance “was becoming extremely competitive and margin driven,” Brookes said. “We didn’t see that as a good return on our capital when we had so much business locally.”

Eagle National has conceded the bulk of the trade finance business to the larger banks and turned to offering community bank services to traders near Miami International Airport.

Eagle National’s management is confident its expertise in trade finance makes it the logical choice for many internationally focused companies because they have a mutual understanding of each other’s business, Brookes said.

Eagle National continues to finance some international deals but only those with top-tier banks located in countries in Central America and the Dominican Republic, Brookes said. These specific countries are steady suppliers of apparel, coffee, fruit and vegetables to the United States.

That’s a change from 2001, when short-term loans totaling more than $2 million went bad as Argentina’s economy crumbled.

“You could see the train coming, and there was nothing you could do,” said Brookes, a former international banker with BankBoston who has served as an examiner with the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

Eagle National has since recovered 80 percent of the bad Argentine loans, and has worked out agreements to retrieve the remainder in time, Brookes said.

Eagle National has bounced back and its return on equity — a key indicator of profitability — climbed to a respectable 11.7 percent in 2003 after slipping to a dismal 0.3 percent in 2001. The industry standard is 15 percent.

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