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Monday, Aug 15, 2022

Special Report: 2020 Year In Review

In a year that many would like to forget, there was plenty to remember. 

The business community around Los Angeles found ways to adapt and endure, to survive and even to thrive. 

Game-changing deals happened. Substantial sales took place. Executives made big moves. Industries were reshaped. Companies pushed forward. 

Before turning the page on this year and welcoming the promise of the next, take a look back at the stories that mattered to L.A. businesses during 2020.


TikTok opens permanent office in Culver City 

Social media company TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., puts down roots in Los Angeles, opening five floors of office space in Culver City’s C3 at Culver Pointe.

The company has U.S. offices in multiple cities and has had a presence in Los Angeles since 2017.

Chief Executive Vanessa Pappas said at the time that opening a permanent office in the Los Angeles area “speaks to our commitment to the U.S. market and deepens our bonds with the city, and the talent and companies, that call it home.”

TikTok is one of a growing number of tech companies moving into the Culver City area. Startups SnackNation, Clutter Inc., Scopely Inc. and Jam City Inc. also have offices in Culver City, and Apple Inc.-owned Beats Electronics is headquartered in the Hayden Tract Business Park at the city’s edge.

— Elijah Chiland

Platinum Equity closes $10 billion fund 

Beverly Hills-based private equity giant Platinum Equity closes a $10 billion megafund — commonly defined as a fund topping $5 billion in committed capital. The fund is one of the largest in Los Angeles private equity history and the firm’s largest to date.

Such megafunds have become increasingly common. In December 2019, Sawtelle-based Leonard Green & Partners closed a $12 billion fund. Blackstone Group Inc. has raised two funds topping $20 billion to date. Blackstone Chief Executive Stephen Schwarzman said in his memoir that the latter of these had reached a record-breaking $26 billion. Apollo Global Management Inc. holds the record for the largest confirmed raise at $24.6 billion.

These huge funds can help institutional investors avoid running afoul of rules that often limit the percentage of a single vehicle that they can buy. They also help private equity firms keep up with the ongoing growth in deal size. As company valuations rise, firms need larger raises to conduct huge buyouts while keeping their funds diversified.

— James B. Cutchin


Trader Joe’s founder dies 

Joe Coulombe, the entrepreneur who founded Trader Joe’s, dies Feb. 28, more than five decades after opening his first store in Pasadena.

The distinctly Southern California grocery store chain, popular for selling gourmet and healthy items at low prices — and $2 bottles of cabernet — now has 505 stores in 42 states, 50,000 employees and about $16 billion in revenue.

Coulombe developed a distinctive brand and shopping experience that felt refreshingly old-fashioned. Hawaiian shirt-clad employees spark conversations with customers and ring bells when they need backup. Instead of buying ads, Trader Joe’s publishes a newsletter called the Fearless Flyer to tell stories about its private-label products and their origins. And while competitors move online, it sticks to a brick-and-mortar approach.

After retiring as chief executive in 1988, Coulombe continued to consult until 2013. The original Pasadena location that he opened in 1967 is still in business.

— Jenna Chandler

Union Bank names Greg Seibly president 

Union Bank, the West Coast retail and commercial banking arm of MUFG Union Bank, names Greg Seibly president and head of regional banking. Seibly is tasked with overseeing the company’s consumer banking, commercial banking, and real estate and wealth management businesses. He will also manage both Intrepid Investment Bankers, a Brentwood-based regional, middle-market investment firm acquired by Union Bank in 2018, and PurePoint Financial, an online bank established by MUFG in 2017.

Seibly succeeds Timothy Wennes, who left Union Bank late last summer after 11 years in the role. Seibly is based downtown, although he will spend much of his tenure working remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to his boss, MUFG Americas Chief Executive Steve Cummings, Seibly will help the company more aggressively contend with major global banks in the region.

One of his most significant challenges has been leading during the pandemic. Seibly has had to simultaneously grasp the basics of his new role and find new ways for himself and his team to work in the current environment.

— James B. Cutchin

Bob Iger departs as Disney CEO — Elijah Chiland

Bob Iger takes many in Hollywood by surprise when he abruptly steps down from his longtime role as chief executive of Walt Disney Co.

During his 15 years leading the company, Iger oversaw the acquisition of Marvel, Lucasfilm and Pixar — moves that gave Disney a formidable stable of valuable franchises and a long string of box office successes.

Shortly before stepping down, Iger completes the acquisition of 21st Century Fox and debuts the Disney Plus streaming service.

Disney veteran Bob Chapek takes over for Iger as CEO and focuses on growing the company’s streaming platform as the pandemic severely disrupts the film production and theme park sides of Disney’s business.

Iger stays on at Disney as the company’s executive chairman, shifting his responsibilities to focus more on content development for Disney Plus and Disney-owned streaming service Hulu.


Covid-19 arrives 

A disease originating in the central Chinese city of Wuhan gradually spreads into California in the early months of 2020. It would become the worst public health crisis in 100 years.

California and Los Angeles County declare Covid-19 a public health emergency on March 4, followed less than a week later by the World Health Organization’s designation of Covid as a global pandemic. Large parts of the economy, including conferences, theme parks and sporting events, shut down in the early weeks of March.

On March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom issues a statewide shelter-in-place order. All nonessential businesses are shuttered. The shutdowns almost immediately begin to impact local businesses — especially in Los Angeles’ massive hospitality and retail sectors. A report by the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board estimates that the drop in Chinese travel alone would lead to a nearly $1 billion drop in spending — a now highly optimistic view of the pandemic’s impact on the local economy.

— James B. Cutchin

AES sells coastal property in Redondo Beach 

AES Corp., which runs the AES Redondo Beach Power Plant, sells the property for $150 million to developer Leo Pustilnikov.

There has been a power plant on the 51-acre coastline site at 1100 N. Harbor Drive, for more than 100 years. The plant is expected to continue operating until the end of 2023.

Pustilnikov had previously announced plans to redevelop the site to include 25 acres of open space and a mixed-use development. The city of Redondo Beach will have the option to purchase up to 15 acres if certain requirements are met.

AES was represented by Newmark Group’s Kevin Shannon and CBRE Group Inc.’s Laurie Lustig-Bower in the transaction.

Arlington, Va.-based AES had been trying to sell the property since 2018. Over the past decade, the company has been retiring once-through-cooling generating units, a specific type of power plant that some argue is dangerous for marine life.

— Hannah Madans

The Forum sells for $400 million 

Los Angeles Clippers owner Steve Ballmer purchases the Forum in Inglewood for $400 million from New York-based Madison Square Garden Co.

The Clippers said the Forum, which was once home to the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Kings before being renovated into a music-focused arena, would primarily remain a concert venue.

Ballmer had already teed up plans to build an 18,000-seat arena for the Clippers down the street from the Forum and next to SoFi Stadium. The Clippers’ lease at downtown’s Staples Center, where the team currently plays, ends in 2024. The proposed development is also expected to have offices and a community center.

But the proposed development had met pushback from Madison Square Garden.

The company had sued the city of Inglewood, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state legislature.

The purchase of the Forum removes potential legal barriers in Inglewood for Ballmer. In fact, experts said at the time, it will likely speed up the timeline for the new Clippers arena.

— Hannah Madans


Short-form streaming service Quibi debuts 

Founded by veteran film producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and armed with $1.75 billion in funding, Hollywood-based Quibi Holdings breaks into the streaming business with a blitz of publicity.

The company reportedly plans to spend up to $500 million on advertising for its short-form subscription service. The platform launches with a slate of original series featuring A-list stars like Chrissy Teigen, Anna Kendrick and Liam Hemsworth.

Quibi seeks to set itself apart in the streaming industry with shows running 7-10 minutes apiece. The service operates on a subscription model, with access costing $4.99 per month with ads and $7.99 per month without.

Quibi’s launch is complicated by the pandemic. The company has to scrap a red carpet premiere event, and an appearance by Katzenberg and Chief Executive Meg Whitman at South by Southwest is called off (along with the festival itself).

Still, some industry analysts predict the streaming service could find popularity with viewers stuck at home due to public health orders.

— Elijah Chiland

Molina Healthcare pays $820 million for Magellan Health unit 

Long Beach health insurance giant Molina Healthcare Inc. agrees to buy the Magellan Complete Care managed health care unit from Phoenix-based Magellan Health Inc. for $820 million in cash. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of 2021.

The purchase is the biggest step yet in Molina Chief Executive Joseph Zubretsky’s “pivot to growth” strategy, which he announced in January following three years of pullbacks from health care markets, internal restructuring and a focus on improving margins.

Magellan Complete Care serves roughly 155,000 enrollees in government-sponsored health care programs such as Medicaid and Medicare in six states, including Arizona, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia. The unit reported 2019 revenue of more than $2.7 billion.

With the addition of Magellan Complete Care, Molina will serve more than 3.6 million members in government-sponsored health care programs in 18 states and will have 2020 pro-forma projected revenue of more than $20 billion.

— Howard Fine

PPP loans rescue small businesses 

The federal government launches the Paycheck Protection Program, and despite criticism, it turns out to be a lifeline for tens of thousands of local businesses pummeled by the pandemic.

Promoted as a tool to keep workers employed and designed specifically for small employers, the Small Business Administration rolls out the program with $349 billion in forgivable loans (the PPP would eventually be funded to the tune of $523 billion).

But the program is far from perfect. The application process is complicated; the list of recipients ends up including mid-market chains and major brand names, and some borrowers find loopholes and lay off workers.

Still, the PPP keeps many small businesses based in L.A. County afloat. By July, nearly 25,000 have received PPP loans in excess of $150,000, and the Small Business Administration, which administers the program, estimates it preserved 1.2 million jobs, or about one-quarter of the county’s workforce.

— Jenna Chandler


LA slowly reopens 

Local health orders that have been in place since the onslaught of the pandemic in March slowly begin to lift as part of a phased reopening.

First up: hiking trails, golf courses and car dealership showrooms. Florists, bookstores and clothing boutiques are also permitted to reopen but only for curbside pickup.
In mid-May beaches, pet groomers and car washes get the go-ahead. And finally, at the end of the month, indoor dining is permitted (but it would be short-lived — indoor dining operations shut down again in July).

Retailers, including indoor malls, are also allowed to fully reopen, this time for indoor shopping. At the same time, hair and nail salons, flea markets and drive-in movies get the green light. Houses of worship are also allowed to reopen but at limited capacity.

— Jenna Chandler

SpaceX completes its first crewed mission

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. hits a major milestone in 2020, becoming the first private company to launch live passengers to the International Space Station.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley travel to the ISS aboard the company’s Crew Dragon capsule, designed specifically for human space travel.

The mission is a trial run for future launches with NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.

Following the close of the space shuttle program, NASA had been forced to transport astronauts to and from the space station on rockets launched by Russia’s space agency. The SpaceX demonstration flight was the first crewed mission launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade.

The launch opens new business opportunities for SpaceX to transport paying customers out of Earth’s atmosphere. The company has already reached agreements with space tourism companies Space Adventures Inc. and Axiom Space Inc. for launches starting as soon as next year.

— Elijah Chiland

County unemployment hits record 

Nearly 1 million Los Angeles County residents report they are unemployed as the pandemic-induced lockdown drives the county’s jobless rate to a record 21.1% in May.

That follows a 20.8% mark in April — levels not seen since the Great Depression and far higher than previous recession peaks from the early 1980s, early 1990s and in 2009.

L.A. County’s unemployment peak is nearly 5 percentage points higher than the state’s top of 16.4% and the national mark of 14.7%. The county is especially hard-hit because of its disproportionate reliance on hospitality, tourism and entertainment.

In March and April, the county sheds a record 716,000 payroll jobs. As of October, just 315,000 of the jobs have been regained.

— Howard Fine


Metro station ahead of schedule 

In an unanticipated silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic, Metro contractors complete work on Wilshire Boulevard decking for the Beverly Hills Purple Line subway station in the city’s Golden Triangle seven months ahead of schedule.

With traffic on Wilshire sharply reduced because businesses in the area are closed by the coronavirus, Metro asks the city to shut down the street completely to allow for round-the-clock construction on the $1.4 billion second phase of the extension to Century City.

The fast-tracked work consists of decking on Wilshire above the planned station to allow for underground construction while traffic flows unimpeded above. Prior to the pandemic, this decking work was to have taken place amid a series of weekend closures from August through January.

The second phase of Purple Line subway construction is being overseen by Sylmar-based prime contractor Tutor Perini Corp. and its project partner, Torrington, Conn.-based O&G Industries Inc.

— Howard Fine

Businesses hit by social interest 

Just as they begin to claw their way out of the economic crater caused by the pandemic, local businesses confront new challenges: protests, civil unrest and looting.

Along L.A.’s commercial districts, primarily in wealthier and predominately white neighborhoods, thousands of protesters march to end police brutality and institutional racism.

At times, the unrest turns chaotic and violent. At the Grove, goods are stolen from Nordstrom, Sephora and the Apple store. On Broadway in downtown, the windows of several mom-and-pop businesses are smashed. In Santa Monica, grocery stores are pillaged. In Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive storefronts are plastered with graffiti.  

As the Black Lives Matter movement grows, locally headquartered brands and companies with a large L.A. presence voice their support on social media, donate money, and commit to building more diverse workforces and inclusive cultures.

— Jenna Chandler

Hudson Pacific, Blackstone announce deal for studios 

Blackstone Group Inc. acquires a 49% interest in the iconic Hollywood studio sites owned by Brentwood-based Hudson Pacific Properties Inc. The deal, which has since closed, values the portfolio at $1.65 billion.

Hudson Pacific owns the Sunset Bronson, Sunset Gower and Sunset Las Palmas studio properties, as well as adjacent office buildings in a portfolio totaling 2.2 million square feet.

“Our latest joint venture with Blackstone unlocks a portion of the value we’ve created for our shareholders and provides us with significant capital to grow both our studio and office portfolios, including the build-out of additional development rights at our existing studios,” Hudson Pacific Chief Executive Victor Coleman said when the deal was announced.

Hudson Pacific leads day-to-day operations, leasing and development for the properties.

At Sunset Gower, the company plans to add two soundstages, a high-rise office tower and a low-rise building for office and production support staff. The 480,000-square-foot addition will nearly double the size of the space on the lot.

— Hannah Madans

CIM Group backs out of Crenshaw Plaza deal 

Mid-Wilshire-based CIM Group walks away from an agreement to purchase the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza shopping center.

The company had announced in April an agreement to purchase the 869,000-square-foot property at 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. from Capri Urban Investors.
Terms of CIM’s purchase are not disclosed, but experts peg the price at more than $100 million.

CIM had faced opposition to the deal from the community, which was concerned about CIM’s plans to redevelop the mall and alleged ties to President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner.

CIM denied that Trump and Kushner were involved and said concerns about the development were based on previous plans for the property that were not developed by CIM.

New York-based LIVWRK and DFH Partners later reach an agreement to acquire the center, which a community group reports has also since fallen through.

— Hannah Madans


Prime Healthcare buys St. Francis Medical Center 

Ontario-based Prime Healthcare Inc. on July 17 receives conditional approval from state Attorney General Xavier Becerra to purchase St. Francis Medical Center in Lynnwood out of bankruptcy.

St. Francis Medical Center was one of six hospitals owned by Verity Health System of El Segundo, which filed for bankruptcy protection in August 2018.

Prime’s bid for St. Francis, which was approved in April by Judge Ernest Robles of the Central District of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Los Angeles, totals more than $350 million, including a $200 million base cash price, assumption of $60 million in debt and an investment of $47 million in capital improvements. That approval was contingent on Becerra also giving the green light.

In approving Prime’s bid, Becerra turns aside a last-minute offer from Palms-based Prospect Medical Holdings Inc. and opposition to Prime’s bid from SEIU United Healthcare Workers West.

— Howard Fine

CPK files for bankruptcy 

California Pizza Kitchen Inc. files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 29.

The Playa Vista-based fast-casual restaurant chain was struggling before the pandemic but cites the government-mandated closure of indoor dining as a contributing factor in its bankruptcy filing. Indoor dining represents about 78% of the company’s net sales.

Prior to the pandemic, CPK, which was founded in 1985 in Beverly Hills, was actively seeking a buyer, but Covid-19 upends that plan.

In early March, the management team closes 46 restaurants, stops paying rent and renegotiates some of its leases. Nationwide, total commercial Chapter 11 filings in July increase 52% from the same month in 2019, according to legal services firm Epiq Systems Inc.

— Jenna Chandler

U.S. Bank Tower sells for $430 million

Downtown’s U.S. Bank Tower, which held the title of tallest building in L.A. until the Wilshire Grand opened  nearby in 2017, sells for $430 million to New York-based Silverstein Properties Inc.

News broke last year that Singapore-based OUE Ltd. was looking for a buyer for the iconic skyscraper. The Silverstein deal was revealed in July and officially closes in September.

While the price may seem hefty, it was a significant discount from the $700 million the property was initially expected to fetch. OUE annual reports had valued the property at $650 million.

Jeff Grasso, head of acquisitions for Silverstein Properties, said in a statement at the time that the company was looking forward to managing “a trophy asset in a dynamic market.”

It’s the first L.A. property for Silverstein, which owns the World Trade Center in New York, among other high-profile buildings.

The U.S. Bank Tower sits at 633 W. 5th St. and stands more than 70 stories. In addition to office space, the building has restaurants and an observation deck with a glass exterior slide.

— Hannah Madans


Troy Rudd takes over at AECOM 

Troy Rudd becomes the new chief executive of Century City-based engineering and infrastructure giant AECOM, replacing Michael Burke, who had built the company into a $20 billion, 90,000-employee behemoth.

In addition, Lara Poloni, chief executive of the company’s Europe, Middle East and Africa units, becomes AECOM’s president.

Rudd, who had been AECOM’s chief financial officer, takes the helm after a pressure campaign by New York-based hedge fund Starboard Value, which had been pushing for higher profit margins and other steps to boost shareholder value. AECOM’s board and Starboard Value reached agreement in November 2019 to sell the company’s management services unit — roughly one-third of the company’s business — and to allow Starboard to pick a slate of new board directors.

Concurrent with that agreement, Burke had agreed to step down in March. But his departure — and Rudd’s ascension — is delayed five months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rudd hits the ground running with a series of management changes and an agreement to sell off the company’s civil construction business within his first 120 days.

— Howard Fine

Trump takes on TikTok 

President Donald Trump startles millions of TikTok users when he issues a pair of executive orders that direct parent company ByteDance Ltd. to sell TikTok’s American business to a U.S. company and authorize restrictions on the app’s distribution that would effectively ban its use in the country.

Trump argues that the social media company’s Chinese ownership constitutes a national security emergency and attempts to bar app stores from making it available to U.S. customers.

TikTok vows to fight the ban and quickly challenges the legality of the orders in federal court. A group of content creators do the same, arguing that the app is crucial to their ability to earn a living.

Key court victories for both the company and the app’s users have so far prevented the ban from going into effect. Meanwhile, a proposed deal allowing Oracle Corp. and Walmart Inc. to purchase 20% of a new company called TikTok Global and oversee the app’s U.S. business remains up in the air.

— Elijah Chiland

Construction at full throttle on %5.5 billion LAX project 

After a decade of planning and site preparation work, heavy construction is fully under way on all major components of the $5.5 billion program to improve ground access to Los Angeles International Airport.

This includes the $2 billion automated people mover, the $1 billion consolidated car rental facility, a $220 million intermodal transportation parking facility and several major roadway improvements.

The aim is to ease traffic flow around LAX and allow passengers to connect by rail with the airport’s terminals. Work is slated for completion by 2026, well in advance of the 2028 Summer Olympic Games.

Work is also in full swing on several other projects, including two new terminals, modernization of several existing terminals and new terminal frontages to ease connections to the people mover.

All of this happens despite plunging airport revenues due to the pandemic because airport officials, under the leadership of Chief Executive Justin Erbacci, decide early on to prioritize construction related to airport modernization.

— Howard Fine


Gores Group sets record $16 billion SPAC deal 

Gores Group, the Beverly Hills-based investment firm founded by billionaire Alec Gores, announces plans to merge its fifth special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, with mortgage lender United Shore Financial Services Inc.

The deal values United Shore, which does business as United Wholesale Mortgage, at $16.1 billion, making the merger the largest SPAC transaction in history.

UWM is the nation’s largest wholesale mortgage lender. The company has nearly 7,000 employees and, according to Gores Group SPAC lead Mark Stone, is on track to originate $200 billion worth of loans by the end of the year.

SPACs, also called blank-check companies, are shell businesses created to raise funds through an initial public offering. Managers then use the capital to acquire a target company and take it public through a reverse merger with the SPAC.

Gores Group has become famous within financial circles for leading blank-check deals in recent years. The firm has raised six SPACs since 2015 and has executed several multibillion-dollar deals in the space.

— James B. Cutchin

SoFi Stadium opens 

SoFi Stadium, the new home of the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers, opens in Inglewood, ending a 25-year saga to build a new stadium and bring professional football back to Los Angeles.

The opening comes two months later than originally scheduled and with no fans in attendance due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The stadium, developed by Rams owner Stan Kroenke, is the first part of a planned sports, entertainment, retail and residential complex on the grounds of the former Hollywood Park racetrack campus.

At more than 3.1 million square feet and with an estimated cost of $5 billion, it’s the most expensive stadium ever built and the largest stadium in the National Football League.

The venue will quickly become one of the region’s premier sports and entertainment destinations. It’s scheduled to host the 2022 Super Bowl, college football’s 2023 national championship game, possibly the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and half of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Summer Olympic Games.

— Howard Fine

GoodRx IPO nets $1.1 billion 

GoodRx Holdings Inc., the Santa Monica-based company that created a prescription drug price-comparison shopping platform, reaps a bonanza on its first day of trading as a public company.

GoodRx stock, trading on the Nasdaq under the symbol GDRX, opens with 34.6 million shares at $33 a share, netting $1.14 billion. The company realizes proceeds from 23.4 million of those shares, meaning it raises $772 million for its own use from the offering. The remainder goes to early shareholder investors.

That total is far above the $100 million the company said it hoped to raise when it filed its initial prospectus on Aug. 28.

After opening at $33, the shares shoot up another 53% to close their first day at $50.50 as investors snap up stock in the profitable company. That gives GoodRx a market cap of $19 billion at the close of the first day of trading.

Founders and co-Chief Executives Doug Hirsch and Trevor Bezdek earn “founders awards” of 12.3 million shares each, valued by the company at a total of $533 million over the next four years.

— Howard Fine

Broadway Financial merger makes history 

Hancock Park-based Broadway Financial Corp., the holding company for Broadway Federal Bank, and Washington D.C.-based CFBanc Corp. announce plans to merge.

The deal will create the largest federally insured, Black-led commercial lending institution in the United States. It will have assets under management of more than $1 billion, according to the banks. The new company will be headquartered in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.

The combined holding company will retain Broadway Financial Corp.’s branding while aligning its banking subsidiaries under the City First Bank brand. The merged entity will also keep Broadway’s Nasdaq listing under the ticker BYFC.

Both Broadway and City First are registered community development financial institutions, or CDFIs, required to allocate at least 60% of their lending capital to moderate- to low-income communities.

The new institution will also be a registered CDFI and, the banks said, continue their missions to drive economic development in underserved communities, now boosted by an increased lending capacity.

— James B. Cutchin


Quibi quickly closes shop 

Quibi executives don’t wait long to pull the plug after the short-form streaming service produces disappointing results following its well-publicized debut.

In Quibi’s first six months, the platform garners only 500,000 subscribers, far below the 7 million the company was aiming for in its first year.

The company announces in October it will shutter the service by the end of the year and sell its assets — including more than 100 original series.

Some analysts had expected business shutdowns related to the pandemic to benefit Quibi, given that many would-be consumers of its content were spending more time around the house. Founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, however, argues that the pandemic had hindered the company’s growth because its target audience was no longer on the move and in search of a quick distraction.

“The world has changed dramatically since Quibi launched, and our stand-alone business model is no longer viable,” he said.

— Elijah Chiland

Cathay Bank names new CEO 

Chang Liu, a career Southern California banker, assumes the role of chief executive at Cathay General Bancorp. The Chinatown-based bank’s new leader replaces Pin Tai, who has held the CEO role since 2016.

Liu, who also serves as Cathay’s president, has had a rapid rise since joining the bank in 2014. Over the last six years, he successively rose from assistant chief lending officer to deputy chief lending officer, chief lending officer, chief operating officer, president and finally CEO.

Although he acknowledges that hard work played a role, Liu is humble about the factors behind his rapid rise. “I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time,” he said.

Liu took the helm at Cathay amid unprecedented levels of economic and social uncertainty brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced most white-collar Angelenos to work remotely for the last nine months. In all this time, however, Liu said he has only spent two and a half days out of the office.

“Nearly 40% of our people are in the branch, on the front lines,” he said. “I don’t feel right working from home under that. If you expect 40% of your workforce to be in the branch, I feel like you should be willing to as well.”

— James B. Cutchin

Soon-Shiong steps aside as CEO of NantKwest 

Billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong steps aside as chief executive of his El Segundo biotech firm, NantKwest Inc., handing the reins to former health care executive Richard Adcock.

Soon-Shiong moves into the role of chairman at NantKwest and retains roughly two-thirds ownership of the company with more than 67 million shares.

He remains chief executive of ImmunityBio, a privately held company that has worked with NantKwest to develop immune system-based drugs to combat a range of diseases, including cancer and, more recently, Covid-19.

A NantKwest spokeswoman said Soon-Shiong decided to relinquish the CEO post to spend more time with ImmunityBio and the Covid-19 vaccine quest.
Adcock was formerly chief executive of Verity Health Systems, the El Segundo-based hospital chain that filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and sold off its hospitals earlier this year.

The relationship between Soon-Shiong and Adcock dates back at least five years as Soon-Shiong’s NantWorks family of companies (which includes NantKwest) had invested more than $300 million in Verity.

— Howard Fine

New $1.5 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge opens 

After nearly 20 years of planning and seven years of construction, the $1.5 billion Gerald Desmond Bridge replacement connecting Terminal Island with Long Beach finally opens.

The bridge promises to be more than just a new-and-improved vital artery for 15% of the nation’s imported cargo truck traffic. Its higher clearance above one of the Port of Long Beach’s main channels will eventually allow bigger cargo vessels into two of the port’s major terminals. And its cable-stay design — the first such bridge in California and the second-tallest in the nation — is poised to remake the Long Beach skyline.

Construction on the bridge began in January 2013, led by a consortium of prime contractors, including Shimmick Construction Co. (now part of Century City-based AECOM); FCC Construcción of Madrid; and Impregilo, now part of Webuild Group of Milan.

The original target completion date was 2019, but that was pushed back by a series of delays, including having to dispose of old oil equipment found at the bottom of the harbor. Construction costs also mounted, pushing the price tag up by nearly $300 million.

— Howard Fine


SpaceX launches second crewed NASA mission 

After the company successfully completed its trial run in May, NASA officially certifies SpaceX and its Crew Dragon capsule for crew rotation flights to and from the International Space Station.

The company completes the first of six planned Commercial Crew missions Nov. 15, delivering on a contract with NASA worth $2.6 billion.

Four astronauts travel to the space station this time around, arriving just over 27 hours after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.
SpaceX beats out rival Boeing Co. to become the first private company certified by NASA for crew rotation flights, and analysts say the company’s solid track record in high-profile missions like this one should bode well for future contracts with the space agency.

SpaceX is one of three companies selected by NASA to design a new lunar landing system for the agency’s Artemis program, which aims to land a woman on the moon by 2024.

— Elijah Chiland

Rexford buys Gateway Pointe Industrial Campus for $297 million 

Brentwood-based Rexford Industrial Realty Inc. went on a buying tear in 2020, acquiring more than $1 billion worth of industrial assets.

One of the group’s largest deals is the $296.6 million acquisition of Gateway Pointe Industrial Campus in Whittier.

Located at 3963, 3931, 3735 and 3629 Workman Mill Road, the property is comprised of four buildings totaling roughly 989,000 square feet.

It sits on more than 4 acres. It has high clearances, dock-high loading and container parking.

The buildings, according to Rexford, are fully leased at rents 21% below market value. The company said it would renew the leases or put leases into place at higher market rates once current leases expire.

Rexford’s co-chief executives, Michael Frankel and Howard Schwimmer, said the property was well positioned to serve last-mile tenants focused on ecommerce.

— Hannah Madans


Elon Musk leaves California 

SpaceX and Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk has long divided his time between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, but he reveals in December that he has relocated to Texas.

Earlier in the year Musk sold his primary Bel Air residence for $30 million and has listed several other homes he owns in the neighborhood. He also reportedly moved his private foundation to Austin, Texas, in October.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Musk said he had moved to Texas in order to be closer to two major projects tied to his companies: a new Tesla plant under construction outside of Austin and a SpaceX launch facility in Boca Chica.

The launch site is where the company is testing prototypes of its enormous Starship rocket, specifically designed for interplanetary space travel. Musk was in Texas to witness the rocket’s latest test flight, which ended in an explosion.

He also criticized California’s business landscape, suggesting that the state had become like a “complacent” sports team that’s begun to take winning for granted.

— Elijah Chiland

Warner Bros. says 2021 releases will stream on opening day 

Venerable film studio Warner Bros. shakes up Hollywood by revealing its 2021 slate of films, including “The Matrix 4” and “Dune,” will be released in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously.

The studio’s parent company, AT&T Inc., which also owns HBO and Warner Bros., had previously announced plans to release “Wonder Woman 1984” both in theaters and through the streaming service on Christmas Day.

The company calls the release plan a “strategic response” to the pandemic, which has forced the closure of movie theaters and kept many would-be viewers at home. However, many industry analysts point out that the move could signal a longer-term shift away from traditional film distribution models.

Prominent filmmakers including Christopher Nolan and “Dune” director Denis Villenueve publicly lash out at the decision, criticizing the studio for poor communication with directors and arguing that streaming services cannot recreate the experience of seeing a film in theaters.

— Elijah Chiland

LA locks down again 

Just as many businesses find a new rhythm and adjust to life during a pandemic, Covid-19 cases surge, and the state and county issue new stay-at-home orders.

Less restrictive than those implemented in the spring, the December orders still threaten several key industries, including food, personal care services and hospitality.

The orders ban all onsite dining, relegating restaurants, breweries and wineries to take-out orders only. The limits also shutter nail and hair salons, restrict capacity at retail shops to 20%, and bar nonessential travel and use of hotels for leisure.

L.A. restaurants, in particular, feel a sense of whiplash.

Over the summer, health officials had given the all-clear to outdoor dining, and many restaurants began to regain their footing. With the new order, Jot Condie, president of the California Restaurant Association, told the Business Journal that “the health department has tied an anchor around the ankles of every L.A. County restaurant owner and said, ‘Good luck treading water.’”

— Jenna Chandler


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