Giving Thanks for Great Leadership

We are getting close to that time of year when people start writing their top ten lists, providing year-in-review posts and taking out the proverbial crystal ball.  In this spirit, my post-Thanksgiving piece provides a list of bank CEOs I met this year that impressed me with both their bank’s performance & personal leadership styles.  From the outside looking in, I have to assume shareholders and employees alike appreciate what each has done for their organization.

A few days ago, David Reilly authored a piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Wanted: Dance Partners for Bank Merger Ball” (sorry, registration required).  Citing Bank Director’s annual M&A research report, he reminded us that it takes two to tango — and “that is still the issue for investors expecting, or hoping for, a significant pickup in bank merger activity in 2015.”  As we showed in our survey of about 200 bank directors and executives, 47% said they planned to purchase a healthy bank in the next 12 months — but 87% also said they had no intention to sell.  So a steady hand to lead an institution strikes me as imperative for those banks seeking growth through traditional, or acquisition-based, means.  This got me thinking…

Over the course of the year, I am lucky to meet Chief Executive Officers from all over the country.  To build on three posts from earlier this year (my “FI Tip Sheet: Some of Banking’s Best CEOs,” “FI Tip Sheet: Great Bank CEOs” and “FI Tip Sheet: The Top Women in Banking“) here, in no particular order, are nine community bank CEOs that made memorable impressions on me in 2014:

  • Jay Sidhu, the Chairman and CEO of Customers Bank, ran Sovereign Bank for nearly 20 years and started Customers Bank from scratch in ’97.  The bank has grown from its original five branches in the suburbs of Philadelphia to 14 offices in three states — Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. Thanks to Jay’s disciplined approach to growth, Customers has seen its assets increase to $6.5 billion as of August 25.
  • Down in Texas, Scott Dueser, the Chairman, President & CEO at First Financial, embodies the concept of loyalty — to his employees, his customers and to the First Financial family as a whole (he’s been a part of it for more than 38 years).  Oh, and his bank placed first in the $5 billion to $50 billion asset category in Bank Director’s annual Bank Performance Scorecard — a ranking of the 200 largest publicly traded bank holding companies in the United States based on their 2013 financial data.
  • Up in RedSox country (sorry, CT might be a swing state between Yankees and RedSox fans, but the team from my home town is far superior), Bill Crawford leads United Financial Bancorp, the bank holding company for United Bank and Rockville Bank.  A $5 billion community bank founded in 1858 with 60 branches in New England, Bill’s determination to merge the two proverbial “equals” as seamlessly as possible reflects a real commitment to the combined teams, client bases and cultures.
  • Billed as the “bank for VCs and entrepreneurs,” Doug Bowers, the President & CEO at Square 1 Bank, oversees the NC-based bank with more then $1bn in assets.  As he shared, their focus on banking entrepreneurs and their investors is all that that they do.  Yes, it is 100% of their business.
  • Robin McGraw, embodies “intrapeneurship.”  The Chairman & CEO of Tupelo, MS-based Renasant Corporation, the parent of Renasant Bank, runs the 110-year-old financial services institution.  With approximately $5.8 billion in assets, Renasant operates more than 120 banking, mortgage, financial services and insurance offices in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Under Robin’s watch, the bank made in-sourcing their IT work a priority — which puts them in a favorably competitive position as the world becomes even more digital.
  • I know Daryl Byrd, President & CEO at IBERIABANK Corporation, sees quite a few potential deals cross his desk as he runs the oldest and largest bank headquartered in Louisiana.  The financial holding company operates 280 combined offices and successfully serves a niche commercial and private banking target audience.  Over the past few years, IBERIABANK has been held up as one of the better acquirers in terms of integrating a team/brand into its own — something they will do again with their recently announced acquisition of Old Florida Bancshares.
  • Any time I am able to spend time with Mike Fitzgerald, the Chairman, President & CEO at Bank of Georgetown in Washington, D.C., I come away inspired.  Being a local presence since 2005 — with a great reputation for growing organically — Mike and his team have quickly made this one of the best community banks in the Washington metropolitan area.
  • John Corbett, the President & CEO at CenterState Bank of Florida, runs one of the fastest growing community banks headquartered in the Sunshine State.  Founded in 1999, CenterState Bank has grown to nearly $4 billion in assets.  Just last month, John talked with us about the need to innovate or risk becoming stagnant and losing the ability to compete for exceptional talent.
  • In terms of taking risks, David Brooks, of Independent Bank Group in Texas, can share a story or two.  As I wrote for BankDirector.com in October (Deciding Whether to Sell or Go Public), David was one of the first to take a bank public following the financial crisis, guiding the bank’s 2012 IPO that raised $100 million at 2.2 times tangible book value. The company has announced eight acquisitions since 2010; most notably, with Bank of Houston in a deal that added more than $1 billion in assets to Independent Bank when the deal closed in April.
  • Finally, a tip of my hat to Leon Holschbach, the Vice Chairman, CEO and President of Midland States Bancorp. Leon stands out for his recruitment & retention efforts and has graciously shared how his company develops executives, attracts leadership and approaches compensation in our highly competitive and economically challenging world.

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.

Mele Kalikimaka

The banking marketplace today is dramatically different from what it was just three years ago.  Since returning to the industry in 2010, I’ve seen a lot of change — and not all good.  Nonetheless, I am bullish on the future of banking.  While some in the media tend to criticize financial institutions and harp on measures like one’s Texas ratio (which models a bank’s risk profile to fail — and also inspired this site’s name), I prefer to focus on financial institutions as the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities.  When I write About That Ratio it is in stark contrast to those who deride the importance of banks.  I am not blind to the problems facing many bankers today, nor ignorant of errors and indiscretions made by some of our larger names.  Still, count me an optimist that better times are ahead.  So before my family and I take off for Christmas in Tulum, Mexico, one last About That Ratio for 2013 that shares three things from the week that was.

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(1) While many year-end blogs take a look back,  Jim Marous authored a comprehensive forward-looking post on his “Bank Marketing Strategies” blog.  His 2014 Top 10 Retail Banking Trends and Predictions compiles opinions from 60 global financial services leaders — including bankers, credit union executives, industry providers, financial publishers, editors and bloggers, advisors, analysts and fintech followers.  I appreciated his invitation to contribute and thought to share the crowd’s top three trends for 2014:

  1. The “Drive-to-Digital” trend will impact delivery, marketing and service usage;
  2. Payment disruption will increase vis-a-vis new players, technologies and innovations; and
  3. Increased competition from “neobanks” and non-traditional players will accelerate.

Take a read through these and the subsequent seven points offered up.  As Jim writes, “disruption will continue at an unprecedented pace and that the industry will look different this time next year.”

(2) It is hard to escape the reshaping of the banking industry through merger activity; in particular, the return of negotiated, strategic bank combinations.  While in San Francisco a few months ago, I wrote about Heritage Financial’s combination with Washington Banking Co.  Forgive the use of “merger of equals” to describe the deal; however, that misnomer best represents the agreement.  Some see these deals becoming more popular as bankers seek to build value for the next few years in order to sell at higher multiples.  Others cite a desire to create more immediate value through cost cuts and efficiencies.  Regardless of who’s driving and who’s riding, there were quite a few notable deals in 2013; for example, Umpqua and Sterling and the recent “51/49” deal between United Financial Bancorp and Rockville Financial.  I get the sense that more boards will consider deals structured like these to accelerate “scaling up” without utilizing cash as the currency for an acquisition.  Time will tell if I’m right.

(3) Finally, I readily admit my excitement to welcoming men and women from across the country to various Bank Director events next year.  From our BIG M&A conference at the Arizona Biltmore in January to The Growth Conference at the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans in May to a peer exchange for officers & directors at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, we have a lot planned.  These events are a big part of our 23 year-old company’s business — and its pretty darn cool to participate in various conversations that relate to growth, innovation and “what’s working.”  I’m not alone in thinking it is time for bank CEOs and their boards to go on the offensive.  Competing successfully in a marketplace, managing shareholder expectations, overcoming regulatory obstacles, developing talent and leadership for the next generation, and, most of all, ensuring that one’s institution has the option of choosing whether to “acquire or be acquired”… yup, topics galore for me to cover here in 2014.

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I end every Friday post with a nod to my mother-in-law (who passed away four years ago).  She lived on the Big Island for several years and became quite fond of the “Aloha Friday” tradition; hence, the sign off.  The only Hawaiian saying that puts a bigger smile on my face is today’s title: Mele Kalikimaka!