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Leonard Abess

Leonard Abess likes to read annual reports. As the head of City National Bank in Miami, he especially likes to study the annual reports of other banks. He always pays particular attention to the opening letter written by the corporation's CEO. It struck Abess as backward that CEOs begin the final paragraphs of their letters with the phrase, "And last but not least, we wish to thank our loyal employees…" Why, he wondered, are the employees the last to be mentioned? In his letters, he always likes to acknowledge his employees first.

Last fall, Abess sold his majority stake in City National. In a business environment in which many corporate leaders have demonstrated mindboggling personal greed, he did something remarkable. He gave $60 million of his proceeds to 471 current and former employees. It was, he said, something he'd been planning to do for more than 20 years.

When deciding how to allocate the money, Abess created an undisclosed formula based on longevity. Recognizing that the highest ranking -- and thus, highest paid -- employees had the shortest tenure, Abess gave the largest amounts to those who had been with City National the longest. As a result, some long-term employees received bonuses equal to nine times their annual salaries.

At a time when the country has lost faith in the leaders of its major financial institutions, what Abess did is highly unusual. He wishes it wasn't. "I prefer to live in a world where this is ordinary," he has said.

Me too.

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