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May 04, 1990 - Image 55

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-05-04

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The Prime Banker

Selwyn Isakow was an executive vice president for
Comerica Bank at age 30. Eight years late); he
heads a private investment house that has
acquired 14 companies in five years.


Staff Writer

ith his wife, Hilary at
his side, Selwyn
Isakow brought a sav-
ings of $6,000 and a mission
when the couple boarded a
plane 13 years ago from
South Africa to the United
The difficult he could do
immediately; the impossible
might take a little longer.
His goal was success.
Today, Isakow, 38, lives
with Hilary and their two
children in a Bloomfield
Hills home. He dresses
impeccably and sports
around town in a late model
navy Jaguar coupe. Isakow is
well received and respected
in the business community.
He appears to be the model
of accomplishment.
Yet he is still reaching for
"I am achievement
driven," says Isakow, presi-
dent and chief executive offi-
cer of an investment house,
Oxford Investment Group,
he founded five years ago. "I
don't get much satisfaction
out of much. There is always
more to do."
Since its inception, Oxford
has acquired and developed
14 corporate entities. Last
year, total revenues for Ox-
ford's group of companies
approached $500 million.
Among the companies is
Isakow's latest endeavor and
favorite subject, The Bank of
Bloomfield Hills, Oakland
County's third private bank.
Isakow is low-key. He con-
tinually credits others for
his business success tales.
Without his partners, he
says, Oxford wouldn't
thrive. And he prefers all at-
tention be given to The Bank
of Bloomfield Hills, omitting
"If I give the facts, I sound
immodest and that is not
what I want to be," he says.
"But if I don't, the facts are
wrong. If I had to write a
story about myself, the
result would be a blank piece
of paper because I prefer
that one not be written."



He loves talking about the
"Banking is difficult," he
says. "But I know this con-
cept so well that I know this
will work."
The bank, which em-
phasizes personal services
and long-term relationships,
opened in October. It already
boasts $5 million in deposits.
It is a hobby for Isakow,
culminating years of bank-
ing experience. In fact,
Isakow headed the team of
consultants years ago that
identified the need for such
personalized banking ser-
"There was great dissent
at the time this concept
came up at the consulting
firm," he says. "But I felt
strongly about it.
"The idea of private bank-
ing has been around for cen-
turies. It just needed to be
identified for this market.
The market in this country
is not being adequately ser-
viced by large banking
The Bank of Bloomfield
Hills follows a growing trend
in financial services, pro-
viding such amenities as
personalized tellers and
representatives who make
house calls.
Like other private banks,
BBH looks to customers with
assets in the millions and
annual incomes of at least
$500,000. These customers
require more specialized,
day-to-day services. It offers
competitive interest rates as
"I have no numerical goal
for the bank," Isakow says.
"I want to have a successful
company to provide a good
investment and supply
outstanding returns for us."
Isakow originally came to
the United States with a
student visa for an MBA
program at 's,,- -arton Busi-
ness School at* e University
of Pennsylvania. He com-
pleted the program within a
year, placing out of many
courses and graduating se-
cond in his class.
Accompanying him to the
United States were several
degrees from a South

African university with
honors in accounting, busi-
ness administration and
law; and two of the nation's
highest professional prizes
for the accounting field.
He was a lieutenant in the
South African air force,
where he transported dig-
nitaries for the military. He
says it was a position un-
common for a Jewish man.
After earning his MBA in
management strategy, fi-
nance and multinational
enterprise, Isakow decided
to stay in this country, giving
up his native citizenship to
become a U.S. citizen.
His first job after Wharton
took his family to San Fran-
cisco. There, he joined one of
the country's leading
management consulting
firms, Booz Allen and
Hamilton. He remained with
the firm for four years, ris-
ing to principal before his
30th birthday.
In San Francisco, Isakow
learned about private bank-
ing, a service he believes
cannot effectively be offered
by larger financial institu-
tions caught up with bu-
reaucratic red tape.
He says the larger banks
are bogged down with too
many policy driven leaders
to tailor banking services to
individual needs. Private
banking provides personal
bankers for each customer.
It was his banking exper-
tise that brought Isakow to
Detroit. At age 30, he ac-
cepted a job as executive vice
president for Comerica
Bank. As a member of the
chairman's executive team,
he lead the retail banking
division, managing cor-
porate planning functions
for the $10 billion Michigan
regional bank holding com-
Isakow introduced private
banking to Comerica as well,
establishing an executive
and professional direct sales
"He would have been the
best at anything he would
have done," says Ann Arbor-
based banking consultant
Justin Moran. "If he were a
rabbi, he would have a tem-

Selwyn Isakow: "This isn't about money. This is about success and
proving to yourself you can do as well as anyone out there starting at
the base of zero."

ple with 20,000 cash mem-
bers. If he were a Catholic
priest, he would become the
cardinal archbishop of New
York. He has this uncanny
ability to plan and set goals.
"There is just one place in
an organization in which
Selwyn feels comfortable.
That is at the top," Moran
In eight years, Isakow has
developed a reputation for
being one of Detroit's master
"He is astute," says in-
vestor David Hermelin.
"The depth of his own con-
fidence exudes a high level
of confidence among those
who come into contact with
him. He is a serious person
about his serious pursuit."
Adds Dan French, vice
chairman of the Bank of
Bloomfield Hills, "He is
brilliant. He is very suppor-
tive and works with you.
You don't feel like you are
working for him."
Those who know Isakow
describe him as a capable
man with a discipline un-
matched by most. They say
he maintains complete con-
trol over each minute of his
They say he is kind, but
not too tolerant of those who

don't subscribe to his value
"If you can't keep up with
him intellectually, he wears
thin," Moran says. "His fun
is his business. Selwyn is the
ultimate example of
management by objective.
He is not a basic, ordinary
mortal. He is more driven.
He is the basic over-
Isakow's time is limited.
Between family obligations,
a handful of charity func-
tions and looking at an
estimated 150 business op-
portunities each month, he
admits he doesn't have much
He contributes to Jewish
charities, but he'd rather not
mingle at social affairs.
There is too much business
to do. He tries to take his
oldest son, Craig, 10, to
breakfast once a week. And
he leaves time for the
youngest one, Richard, 6.
He'd like to spend more time
with them.

"I want to have enough to
care for my wife and kids.
This isn't about money. This
is about success and proving
to yourself you can do as well
as anyone out there starting
at the base of zero." ❑

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