Dominic Ng, the boyish 56-year-old CEO of East West Bank with perfectly combed short black hair, is giving me a tour of the contemporary art gallery on the first floor of his company’s headquarters in Pasadena. In front of us is a gorgeous 110-by-30 inch black-ink Chinese calligraphy on a classic dark yellow parchment – Ng’s personal favorite piece. At first glance, the square characters look no different to visitors than any average Chinese calligraphy.
“But they are actually English,” Ng explains, pointing to the first “character” as he spells out the hidden letters. “C-O-M-E. These are the song lyrics for Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin,” Ng says with a smile.
Ng, who handpicked the artwork, is proud of this collaboration with well-known Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing. To him, nothing represents East and West better than a rock-and-roll anthem meeting Chinese calligraphy. An avid guitarist who claims to know the meaning of every rock and roll song from the 50s and 60s, Ng says music helped him assimilate to America as a young Hong Kong student in Texas who did not speak English well.
Fast forward 30 years, Ng now leads one of the largest regional banks in America focusing on China and the U.S. With $31.1 billion in assets under management, the Pasadena-based East West Bank has grown out of the original Chinatown thrift to capitalize on the growth of Chinese Americans. With stock rising more than 50% over the past three years, the bank has become a $5 billion market cap regional powerhouse. And even as China’s economy slows, the politically savvy Ng is doubling down on his niche: bridging the world’s two largest economies on everything from real estate to Hollywood to renewable energy.