FI Tip Sheet: Some of Banking’s Best CEOs

Last month on Yahoo Finance, Sydney Finkelstein, professor of management and an associate dean at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, produced a list of the Best CEOs of 2013, one that includes Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Pony Ma of Tencent,  John Idol of Michael Kors, Reed Hastings of Netflix and Akio Toyoda of Toyota.  Inspired by his picks, I reached out to a number of colleagues that work for professional services firms to ask their thoughts on the top CEOs at financial institutions — along with why they hold them in such regard.  What follows in this morning’s tip sheet are myriad thoughts on some of the best CEOs in the business today — broken down into three categories: the “biggest banks” with $50Bn+ in assets, those with more than $5Bn but less than $50Bn and finally, those in the $1Bn to $5Bn size range.

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(1) Top CEOs at financial institutions over $50Bn

The names and logos of institutions over $50Bn — think M&T with some $83Bn in assets, KeyCorps with $90Bn, PNC with $305Bn and US Bancorp with $353Bn – are familiar to most.  Leading these massive organizations are some tremendously talented individuals; for example, John Stumpf, the CEO at Wells Fargo.  Multiple people shared their respect for his leadership of the fourth largest bank in the U.S. (by assets) and the largest bank by market capitalization.  According to Fred Cannon, the Director of Research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, John “has created and maintains a unified culture around one brand, (one) that demonstrates strength and stability.  Wells is exhibit #1 in the case for large banks not being bad.”

Similarly, U.S. Bancorp’s Richard Davis garnered near universal respect, with PwC’s Josh Carter remarking “Richard has continued to steer US bank through stormy seas, continuing to stay the course running into the downturn, taking advantage of their position of relative strength, weathering the National Foreclosure issues and managing to avoid being considered part of ‘Wall Street’ even though US Bank is one of the 6 largest banks in the U.S.”

Finally, Steve Steinour, the CEO at Huntington Bancshares, inspired several people to comment on his work at the $56Bn institution.  Case-in-point, Bill Hickey, the co-Head of the Investment Banking Group at Sandler O’Neill, pointed out that since taking the helm in 2009, Steve has led a “remarkable turnaround… Huntington is now a top performer and is positioned to be the dominant regional bank in the Midwest.”

(2) Top CEOs at financial institutions between $5Bn and $50Bn

For banks between $5Bn and $50Bn, Greg Becker at Silicon Valley Bank garnered quite a few votes.  Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, I think they are one of the most innovative banks out there — and several people marveled that it has only grown and diversified under Greg’s leadership.  According to Josh Carter, “what they’re doing is a good example of how a bank can diversify their lending approach while maintaining a prudent credit culture.”  This echoes what Fred Cannon shared with me; specifically, that the $23Bn NASDAQ-listed institution is “the premier growth bank with a differentiated product.”  

Fred also cited the leadership of David Zalman, the Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at Prosperity Bancshares Inc., a $16 billion Houston, Texas-based regional financial holding company listed on the NYSE.  According to Fred, David demonstrates how to grow and integrate through acquisitions that is a model for other bank acquirors.  C.K. Lee, Managing Director for Investment Banking at Commerce Street Capital, elaborated on David’s successes, noting their development “from a small bank outside Houston to one of the most disciplined and practiced acquirers in the country and more than $20 billion in assets. The stock has performed consistently well for investors and the acquired bank shareholders – and now they are looking for additional growth outside Texas.”

Keeping things in the Lone Star state, C.K. also mentioned Dick Evans at Frost Bank.  In C.K.’s words, “this is a bank that stayed true to its Texas roots, maintained a conservative lending philosophy, executed well on targeted acquisitions and a created distinctive brand and culture. As Texas grew into an economic powerhouse, Frost grew with it and Mr. Evans was integral to that success.”

Finally, Nashville’s Terry Turner, the CEO of Pinnacle Financial Partners, drew Bill Hickey’s praise, as he “continues to successfully take market share from the larger regional competitors in Nashville and Knoxville primarily as the result of attracting and retaining high quality bankers. Financial performance has been impressive and as a result, continues to trade at 18x forward earnings and 2.4x tangible book value.”

(3) Top CEOs at financial institutions from $1Bn to $5Bn

For CEOs at banks from $1Bn to $5Bn, men like Rusty Cloutier of MidSouth Bank (“a banker’s banker”), David Brooks of Independent Bank Group (“had a breakout year in 2013″) and Leon Holschbach from Midland States Bancorp (“they’ve not only grown the bank but added significant presence in fee-income businesses like trust/wealth management and merchant processing”) drew praise.  So too did Jorge Gonzalez at City National Bank of Florida.  According to PwC’s Josh Carter, Jorge took over a smaller bank in 2007 “with significant deposit concentrations, large exposures to South Florida Real Estate, weathered a pretty nasty turn in the economy and portfolio value and emerged with a much stronger bank, diversified loan portfolio and retained key relationships.  Jorge has also managed to maintained an exceptional service culture, with a significant efficiency level and has combined relationship driven sales to grow the bank.  Jorge has also diversified the product mix and is one of the few smaller banks that can really deliver on the small bank feel with big bank capabilities.”

In addition, Banner Bank’s CEO, Mark Grescovich, won points for his work at the commercial bank headquartered in Walla Walla, Washington.  Mark became CEO in August 2010 (prior to joining the bank, Mark was the EVP and Chief Corporate Banking Officer for the $24Bn, Ohio-based standout FirstMerit). In Fred Cannon’s words, the transformation “is truly exceptional and Mark accomplished this by encouraging and utilizing a talented team of bankers from legacy Banner.”

Finally, Ashton Ryan at First NBC in New Orleans is one I’ve been told to watch.  Indeed, C.K. Lee shared how “Ryan capitalized on the turmoil in New Orleans banking to turn in strong organic growth, with targeted acquisitions along the way. The bank is recently public and has been rewarded by the market with a strong currency to go with its strong balance sheet and earnings.”

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In addition to the list above, I have been very impressed by Peter Benoist at Enterprise Bank in St. Louis, look up to Michael Shepherd, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Bank of the West and BancWest Corporation and respect the vision of Frank Sorrentino at ConnectOne.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I realize there are many, many more leaders who deserve praise and recognition.  Click the “+” button on the bottom right of this page to comment on this piece and let me know who else might be recognized for their leadership prowess.

Aloha Friday!

7 thoughts on “FI Tip Sheet: Some of Banking’s Best CEOs

    • Yes, there are quite a few strong ones. For example, Bank of Georgetown’s CEO here in D.C. is very talented — as is the founder + CEO at Avenue Bank in Nashville. Thanks for the inquiry — you’ve given me an idea for a future post! -AD

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