It’s a Wonderful Life (Really?)

By Rinaldo Brutoco   |   May 28, 2020

The American Film Institute honored Frank Capra by selecting his movie It’s A Wonderful Life as the Most Inspirational Film of all time. It was a great pick. Not only has it become a “Christmas Classic” for decades, but Frank Capra is quoted as saying it was his favorite film of all the incredible classics he directed. Roger Ebert summed it up this way:

“This was the first movie he made after returning from service in World War II, and he wanted it to be special – a celebration of the lives and dreams of America’s ordinary citizens, who tried the best they could to do the right thing by themselves and their neighbors.”

Living through the current pandemic and economic depression “trying to do the right thing by (ourselves) and our neighbors,” we have begun analyzing our bittersweet experiences. We miss the human connection many of us took for granted until it wasn’t automatically available. We miss the ease of popping into our favorite restaurant, and are hoping many of our restaurants and independent shops will make it through this crisis and permanently reopen. We miss going to the theater, and for some of us, we miss going to church on Sunday. We miss the fluidity of travel, domestic and foreign, and the chance to visit our favorite gym or spa wherever located. We miss bringing home bags of groceries without having to sterilize them. We miss our favorite coffee hangouts – even if we can get the java, the experience is simply not the same. Most of all, we miss the sense of security that “all will be well” and that this pandemic will end before it “gets” our friends, family members, or acquaintances. We miss waking up without being told that over 100,000 Americans have died and the daily drumbeat of death. We miss what we took for “normal” and know it will never return, even when things do get better.

So much for the “bitter,” what is “sweet” about this “stay at home” situation? Well, the same thing that came to life in fictional Bedford Falls in It’s A Wonderful Life is coming into clearer view every day: it’s our relationships. It’s those relationships in personal and business matters that we celebrate now more than ever, just as George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) came back from his brush with suicide to discover that all the relationships he had built were the real currency of success and joy the film celebrated.

I’m blessed to have many business and personal relationships. As this column is the World Business Academy’s “Perspectives” on business and society, I’ll confine my remarks to business relationships, knowing most of you could probably teach me a lot about building better and stronger personal relationships. Hopefully, you’ll send in Letters to the Editor sharing how you value those personal relationships that you see with renewed clarity in our currently “locked down” world.

From a business relationship perspective, I am so blessed to be able to trust my longtime business associate and CFO for more than 35 years, Ray Afshordi. Similarly, I have enjoyed an unusually close business relationship for over a decade with my extremely competent attorney Mike Schley. The same is true of my relationship with our independent CPA, Maeda Palius. And, most importantly, is the relationship I have with the dedicated local physician, Dr. Robert Mathis, who has gone “above and beyond” in the current pandemic. I could name innumerable other professional relationships but I think you understand my point: it is the relationships we have that create meaning, and ultimately value over time.

I recently experienced one of those relationships working incredibly well. It started with meeting Jason Wilson, Sr. VP at American Riviera Bank, more than a year ago. I had numerous deposits with several financial institutions to get to know what I could expect of them. I spent a full 18 months researching this vital question, because my banking relationship is one of the most critical I require for the smooth operation of my business even in “good times.” I shared my conclusion that American Riviera would be my best bet for a bank because what I value most in a banking relationship is the relationship! I shared my view of that and asked Jason just one question: was American Riviera a place where I could expect them to get to know me before anything went wrong so they could respond quickly and effectively in relying on the relationship we would have built up? He replied that building relationships with their customers was the primary goal of American Riviera. I immediately moved all of my accounts there.

A little over a month ago, one of my comptrollers was the victim of a $34,000 wire fraud. We reported it to our insurance agent, Mike Brashears, with whom we have had a great relationship for a decade, and who picked up the phone after hours. He immediately called the Bank’s Senior VP Andy Cheung who was home sick with COVID-19 but picked up his cell phone at 9:30 pm to take Mike’s call. He didn’t wait to get paperwork for me to sign in order to protect the Bank if anything went wrong. Instead, he called Tino Garcia in the wire department so the transfer could be stopped at the Eastern bank when they opened up the next morning. Their prompt action on my behalf resulted in the wire being stopped in the nick of time. Two days later we received all the money back. Here are two observations: 1) Jason clearly told me the truth in that very first interview; and 2) like George Bailey in my favorite movie, this story ends with the celebration of all the relationships George created that saved his savings and loan, saved his marriage, and even saved his life… and, recaptured the money.

As we “shelter at home,” let’s remember how fortunate we are to have personal and business relationships here in Santa Barbara which conclusively proves it is A Wonderful Life after all.


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