John A. Kanas
chairman and CEO
John A. Kanas, chairman and CEO of BankUnited, has been called a born leader whose career has flourished thanks to hard work, dedication and leading by example. At the age of 29, he was named president of North Fork Bancorp, Inc. Now 66, Kanas is guiding BankUnited, one of the biggest success stories in the banking industry since the recent financial crisis.
Kanas took over BankUnited in May 2009, deep in the midst of one of the biggest recessions in U.S. history. He worked quickly to inject new blood and revitalize a workforce that had lost everything, including its own financial stability and retirement plans. At a moment when employees had lost so much, Kanas extended a hand, rolled up his sleeves and let people know that they would have to work harder than ever. Today, the pensions and retirement plans lost in 2009 have been replenished.
The management style of Kanas is based on surrounding himself with the right people and empowering them to do the right thing. Employees are encouraged to be entrepreneurial thinkers and to propose original ideas that will help improve performance.
Kanas comes from a family of farmers and is fond of sharing a story from his childhood. His grandfather would tell him that as farmers, each family member must be responsible for daily hard work, they must stay healthy, they should take care of each other and, most important of all, they should make sure the cows — or in his retelling of the story, the company — stay healthy.
Many employees are shareholders and all employees participate in the Building Bridges program, which fosters brand consciousness, builds team spirit and emphasizes service to clients and each other. With his wife, Kanas has established the John and Elaine Kanas Family Foundation to support medical, educational and other charitable activities serving the common welfare.
Gideon T. Haymaker
founder and CEO
Seaside National Bank & Trust
Gideon T. Haymaker conceived the idea for Seaside National Bank & Trust while working for a major bank in Florida. The bank had undergone a structural and cultural transformation, which meant a client had to work with a different bank representative for each service it wanted. Haymaker believed that was inefficient and minimized the importance of relationships in the banking business. So he set out to form Seaside Bank with the goal of putting people before process.
Opening Seaside required Haymaker to spend two years working through regulations and raising capital. The 10-year business plan he conceived prior to the bank’s opening led to phenomenal growth, a testament to Haymaker’s foresight and planning.
When Seaside opened in 2007 the country was in the midst of the banking crisis. But as CEO, Haymaker stayed true to the consistent execution of his strategic plan. Within six years, he had grown Seaside Bank from a single location to 14 branches throughout Florida.
Haymaker believes banking is a relationship business, which applies to both customers and employees. For customers, he feels that broad, sophisticated products and high-touch, personal client services don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And for employees, he recognizes that monetary compensation is not the main concern. They want to understand the strategic mission of the company, work for a company that has core values that agree with their own and be recognized for their meaningful work.
Haymaker is very cognizant of maintaining the culture of the company, which is at risk with rapid growth. He believes the company’s culture is a major factor in its high retention rate. He has created a fun, calm, relaxed and respectful environment that’s unique in the banking industry, and it’s a significant contribution to Seaside’s success.
Kenneth E. LaRoe
founder, chairman and CEO
First Green Bank
Kenneth E. LaRoe thought he had retired in 2006 after selling Florida Choice Bank where he was the largest shareholder, chairman and CEO. Then he chanced to read “Let My People Go Surfing,” by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. Chouinard’s views resonated with LaRoe, a lifelong environmentalist, spurring a passion to create a bank that mirrors the holistic and sustainable Patagonia model without ethical compromise. The result was the 2009 founding of First Green Bank, now with five Florida branches and more planned.
LaRoe, the company’s founder, chairman and CEO, believes conservation is a fundamental virtue and economic necessity, perfectly at home with conservative business principles. Rooted in the idea that businesses can be financially, environmentally and socially responsible, the bank became profitable soon after its founding and is one of the few in Florida to hold a five-star rating from Bauer Financial, a rating it has held for 11 consecutive quarters.
This performance is largely the result of the bank’s diversified loan portfolio, which is screened for environmental purposes and excludes loans to extractive industries. LaRoe’s long-term goal is for 20 percent of loans to be eco-friendly, with the objective of changing attitudes through education and influence.
Doing business differently permeates LaRoe’s operation, in part evidenced by a new headquarters building built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design’s Platinum Standards. Even the boardroom table is made from trees harvested on-site.
Employees also benefit, witnessed by the company’s more than 90 percent retention rate and rapid growth. Everyone receives a scholarship to earn LEED professional certification and are awarded $1,000 annual raises when they do. Other benefits include cash incentives for purchasing hybrid vehicles; free use of company hybrids for any purpose, business or personal; full medical coverage; and tuition reimbursement as well as paid sabbaticals for any social mission.
LaRoe’s commitment to making a profit while having a positive impact, works.