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Business Observer Thursday, May 20, 2021 6 months ago

Bank leads the way on developing high-performing leaders

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Deposits and loans pay the bills at The Bank of Tampa. But its comprehensive leadership development program, while not as public, is equally essential.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

The Bank of Tampa President Corey Neil says rather than a corporate ladder for leaders, his bank has something more like a corporate step stool.

Not that people don’t rise up in a variety of leadership positions at the bank. They do. But the process isn’t the typical cutthroat corporate competition you might find at an $82.17 million company with some 260 employees. The bank, in addition to that payroll and $82 million in revenue in 2020, has $2.7 billion in assets. It’s one of the largest locally based community banks in the region.

By step stool, Neil means the bank’s leadership development process. Like many banks, results, of course, matter. But The Bank of Tampa differs from many other companies, not just financial institutions, in the amount of time — and money — it spends on developing future leaders. This includes executive coaches, in-the-field experience and classes and seminars at Ivy League and other top-tier colleges. And it has a relatively flat hierarchy, with plenty of opportunities for doers. “You get to find your own ways to build your leadership career here,” Neil told me on a recent Zoom call.

Neil is example A of the bank’s leadership development. He joined the bank in 2003, coming from SunTrust. He then spent eight years in commercial lending. In 2011, other bank executives started to give Neil more tasks and authority. In 2015, Neil attended Columbia University’s Advanced Management Program, a 30-say immersive program where he left his family and went to New York City for the month. (The bank’s Hillsborough County market president, Scott Gault, also attended Colombia’s Advanced Management program.) Neil’s title and responsibilities grew steadily, culminating with being named president and COO in July 2020.

Courtesy. The Bank of Tampa CEO Bill West says investing in future leaders is a key driver of the bank's success.

The bank’s leadership development program is broken down to two tiers: a dozen or so senior-level leaders and another parallel program for younger and junior-level leaders to be. The bank has spent well into the six figures on its leadership programs over the last decade, CEO Bill West says. He’s been asked how the bank can afford to do this — or why it does it. West’s answer? It’s something the bank can’t afford not to do. “It’s not about the money,” West says. “It’s about being intentional with building leadership in your company.”

West’s pragmatism aside, I think The Bank of Tampa’s leadership programs and how it executes on finding its next generation of leaders is a model any company should emulate. “We’re not just preparing people for a promotion,” West tells me. “We are trying to get our people ready to do some jobs that we don’t even know exist right now.”

High performers

Like Neil, West, 70, traces his rise in the bank to its leadership focus. That goes back to founder A. Gerald Divers, who told West he didn’t want to “be the last guy standing” at the bank, which Divers launched in 1984. “Jerry wanted to build a bank that could outlive him,” West says of the founder, now chairman emeritus, “and he was successful at that.”

The bank’s leadership curriculums are built around things not taught at banking school. People in the senior leadership cohort meet with an executive coach at least once a month to enhance what they are learning. (Each leader can choose or his or her coach, out of three of four options.) The bank has a learning and development manager, previously with the University of Florida, working on a program for young leaders at the bank.

Mark Gordon

West’s goal is to build a base of strong complimentary leaders — nimble problem solvers who are also servant leaders of high-performing teams. “Most leaders fail because they don’t have enough emotional intelligence,” West says. “It’s not always about what your needs are. It’s about figuring out what you can do to help with the needs of the people on your team.”

Bring it

Neil joined the bank for the reasons West talks about on leadership and corporate culture. Divers and West, Neil says, were the “types of people I wanted to hitch my wagon to.”

'Most leaders fail because they don’t have enough emotional intelligence.’ Bill West, The Bank of Tampa

 

As president and COO, Neil is in a unique spot in his leadership, and banking, career. He’s 47-years-old — years away from retirement. But he’s also constantly analyzing who will make up the next group of leaders at The Bank of Tampa. What does Neil look for? His answer is succinct: attitude and impact.

In practice, Neil says that means people “who come to work everyday ready to take on any task in front of them without debate and who do it in a way that has big impact on the bank.”

Neil, who still works with his own leadership coach regularly, credits West with the vision to make leadership the priority it is at the bank. “Bill’s crowning achievement is he help put forth a group of leaders here who have 15 to 20 years of runway,” Neil says. “I have enormous confidence in this team’s ability to lead our future.”

(This story was updated to reflect the previous employment for the bank's learning and development manager.)

 

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