Alan Rothenberg is a real Southland renaissance man. The founder and chief executive of 1st Century Bancshares Inc., the Century City-based holding company for 1st Century Bank, splits his time between the bank and Premier Partnerships, a sports marketing firm he started. The former litigator has worked at some of Los Angeles' biggest law firms, including Latham & Watkins and O'Melveny & Myers, and is the current president of the Los Angeles World Airports Commission. But perhaps his most resounding achievements have come in the soccer world. Despite having never even seeing a game until his late 20s, Rothenberg was instrumental in arranging the soccer games in the 1984 Olympics and he ran the 1994 World Cup. Shortly thereafter, he helped start Major League Soccer. A prot & #233;g & #233; of former Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke, Rothenberg has built an enduring legacy of his own. And though he is approaching his 70th birthday, he has not slowed down. He still heads 1st Century, which has so far weathered the financial crisis. Rothenberg recently sat down with the Business Journal to discuss his career, current pursuits and future.

Question: How did you end up pursuing such diverse challenges? Did you set out to be a renaissance man?

Answer: It just happened. I've always had enough curiosity and enough energy I guess that when new opportunities come along I say, "Why not?" I haven't mapped anything out, quite honestly. My modus operandi has always been do the best at whatever it is that's in front of you and something good will happen from that. If not, you'll still feel good about the fact that you did the best at whatever you were doing. In some cases, it was more guts than brains.

Q: What do you mean?

A: I did stuff that maybe from a risk-calculation standpoint I probably shouldn't have done: I left O'Melveny & Myers then the biggest law firm to join Chuck Manatt in the San Fernando Valley with three guys. A year into that I left them to join Jack Kent Cooke.

Q: That seems like a great opportunity.

A: It was a great opportunity but (Cooke's) reputation was that he was the toughest guy in the world and impossible to work for. My attitude was, OK, he could be, but what's the worst that could happen? He chews me up and spits me out and I'm practicing law again. That's what I was going to do anyway, so what have I got to lose? When the World Cup opportunity came along, I thought that's so exciting. Starting a bank is similar.

Q: With made you want to go into banking?

A: Well, fun. I'm an entrepreneur by nature and I thought it would be a profitable venture. In the early 2000s, there was a wave of mergers and acquisitions in Southern California. It just seemed like the time was appropriate to have a bank that was targeting high-net-worth individuals, professionals, closely held family-owned businesses successful people, but not the giants that would capture the attention of the top officers at the major banks.

Q: Did you have any background in banking?

A: Very early in my legal career (at Manatt Phelps & Phillips). This was back in 1966 and I was a litigator. But all the clients were bank clients so that was my introduction to the banking world and particularly to the independent or community banking world. In the '70s, Chuck and I and a group of people started a bank right here in Century City, First Los Angeles Bank, which was a very successful enterprise. We sold it to an Italian bank after nine years.

Q: What has the current experience been like?

A: I don't think I've ever been more overwhelmed by the positive response for anything I've ever done in my life. People heard about it and they started calling me: Can I get in? Can I be a founder? We ended up not with 10 or 12 founders; we ended up with 120.

Q: Did you anticipate this financial crisis when you were starting up your bank?

A: I wish I could say I was so prescient. But I can say that we never deviated from the basics. We didn't buy into, frankly, all the silliness. That just wasn't our game plan.

Q: You have had quite a lot of experience with professional sports. Have you always been into sports?

A: I was always a sports fan. I loved all sports and tried to play all sports and I was no good at any of them.

Q: Well, at least you've had a lot involvement with sports professionally.

A: It's not as much fun being a fan as it was. If you're going to be a fan, you just want to cut loose.

Q: Why can't you cut loose?

A: I remember going to these Lakers games Cooke had seats on the floor and I'd sit on the floor with him, and later with (Donald) Sterling at the Clippers and it's so hard because you can't be a fan. Part of being a fan is you get to boo your own players when they're not performing, but if you're (sitting with) management you can't do that.

Q: Were you a fan of soccer as a kid?

A: Growing up in Detroit in the '50s there wasn't soccer; it was the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Lions, the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Pistons, University of Michigan football. That's what I knew, that's what I grew up on. Soccer wasn't part of the diet.

Q: You must have at least been familiar with the sport.

A: I went to work for Cooke as a young lawyer. He was one of the people that started the old North American Soccer League. It was 1968 and he had a soccer team and he basically turned to me and said, "Look after this for me." I was 28 years old. I had never seen a soccer game in my life and here I am managing a soccer team.

Q: I bet you weren't the only one unfamiliar with soccer.

A: When Cooke introduced me to the sport, he got Chick Hearn to do the broadcasts. He had to give Chick the rulebook, literally, before the team came. And we prepared booklets to distribute to fans about the game. The goal at that time and really until we started Major League Soccer was to convert football and basketball fans to soccer fans. What MLS has done is now we have enough people who know soccer; we don't have to convert anybody.

Q: How did you end up organizing the soccer tournament at the 1984 Olympics?

A: When the '84 Olympics were being organized, Peter Ueberroth came up with a concept that in order to involve as many successful and influential people in the community as possible, he'd create commissioners for every sport and every venue. He tapped me to do soccer. It turned out that soccer was a spectacular success in the '84 Olympics, which shocked everybody including me.

Q: Why were you shocked?

A: I mean, we sold out the Rose Bowl three times, Stanford Stadium twice. It was amazing.

Q: Did the 1994 World Cup go as smoothly?

A: Before the final match we got a bomb scare. We have 100,000 people sitting there in the Rose Bowl and there's a bomb scare.

Q: That's pretty scary.

A: We had swept the place and there was amazing security we had the FBI, state police, Pasadena police, L.A. County sheriffs. They're all huddling with me, but I'm the boss and I've got to make the decision.

Q: What did you do?

A: We looked at it all and they were pretty sure it was a quack. I said, "Yeah, it's probably a quack." Thank God, nobody did anything. But if that happened today, I don't know if we could make the same decision. The great part of it is my wife and kids were in there and afterward I told them what happened and she said, "At least you could have gotten the word to us."

Q: As a Major League Soccer founder, what do you think about the league today?

A: It's just built through the years. The World Cup and then the Women's World Cup (in 1999) just raised everybody's knowledge and awareness of the sport. MLS has done a good job of building from scratch, year after year. They had some pretty tough years, but now it's starting to enjoy some serious success.

Q: How about the Los Angeles Galaxy luring David Beckham? It's been a dud move on the field, with the team failing to make the playoffs twice.

A: It was a very exciting and bold move. I think it probably gathered more attention to the league and therefore helped sponsorship and TV as well as attendance. As a business matter, I think it was successful. Obviously, on the field for the Galaxy, it hasn't been successful. But I think it was a big statement and a very positive one.

Q: Your name has graced the championship trophy since the league's inception, but MLS announced last month that it was renaming the championship trophy for billionaire Philip Anschutz, who owns the Galaxy. Was this upsetting?

A: But for me there'd be no league; but for Phil Anschutz there'd be no league. I may have gotten it started, but at one point he owned five of the teams. If he didn't step up and rescue the league financially, it wouldn't exist. If he hadn't spent a fortune to build the Home Depot Center to prove that a soccer-specific stadium is the way to go, then it wouldn't exist. They wanted to honor him, so we sat and talked and the MVP trophy is going to be named for me and the league championship cup is now going to be the Anschutz Cup.

Q: What is it like to have your name on a trophy? Aren't those honors usually reserved for the deceased?

A: (Laughs) I was obviously quite pleased. It was a big surprise to me. They just said it one day and I didn't know it was coming. But it's not that important. What's important is the fact that the league has been created and is successful. That's a matter of great pride for me.

Q: Are you still professionally involved with sports franchises?

A: I have a company that I'm chairman of, Premier Partnerships, which is a sports marketing and sales consulting firm. We have lots of clients in the sports world we consult for. So I'm involved in that way.

Q: Did any of your children get involved in professional sports?

A: My oldest son, Brad, has a sports marketing firm that does a lot of grassroots events. His biggest event is he puts on a nationwide soccer tournament for Hispanics. What happened was he was doing our grassroots promotion in the World Cup and loved it so much that when the World Cup was over he started a business around that.

Q: What about your other sons?

A: My middle son, Richard, works here at the bank. He's managing director in charge of business development. My youngest son, Danny, lives in L.A. also. He's 38 and he is a professional photographer. So it's a pretty eclectic group.

Q: What is life like for you outside of work?

A: Interestingly, my hobby is my full life. I don't fish; I don't garden; I play golf only when I have to. I just enjoy being involved in so many activities with my wife and kids and grandkids. When we do have free time, we go to art museums and movies. But I don't have one passionate hobby. Being active is my hobby.

Q: What does your wife do?

A: My wife, Georgina, is an artist. She's a sculptor. She also designs jewelry. We've been married for 48 years. She's just a fabulous woman.

Q: Looking back on your life and career, if you had to boil down your experience into a single piece of advice, what would it be?

A: Take a measured risk a calculated risk. If you have enough ability and enough confidence in yourself, you'll do fine. You're not going to win every one, but you've got nothing to be ashamed of if you've worked hard at it.

Q: That seems to have worked for you.

A: I wish I could have 10 lives so I could pursue all of the things I would like to do. But I only have one and I want to make the most of it as long as I have the opportunity.

Alan Rothenberg
Title: Chief Executive
Organization: 1st Century Bancshares Inc.
Born: 1939; Detroit
Education: B.A. in history, J.D., both from University of Michigan
Career turning points: Joining Manatt Phelps & Phillips, going to work for Jack Kent Cooke
Most influential people: Charles Manatt, Jack Kent Cooke
Personal: Lives in Beverly Hills with his wife, has three adult sons
Hobbies: His "full life"

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