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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 13, 2017 1 year ago

'Blown away'

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Running a bank is fine. But for thrills, Allen Brinkman heads to a plane. Then he jumps out of it.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Executive: Allen Brinkman. Chairman, president and CEO of SunTrust Bank's West Florida division, a market that stretches from Citrus County, north of Tampa, to Collier County. Brinkman has been in banking for more than 20 years and is active on many business and civic boards in the Tampa area. The market Brinkman oversees encompasses some $23 billion in assets, 155 branches and about 5,000 employees.

Diversion: Skydiving. Brinkman has jumped out of a plane 93 times since his first jump in 2001 in Georgia. He's jumped less as his four children (three teenagers, including 14-year-old twins) have grown. His last jump was in early 2016.

Guts and gusts: Brinkman sought something to motivate the team of bankers he supervised in summer 2001. His plan: If the team met certain goals on Gallup customer service reports, he would jump out of an airplane, he told them. But these were aim-high targets. “It was a very big goal,” says Brinkman. “I wanted them to get scores that would be better than anyone else in the industry.”

Feel it: Many first-time skydivers have second thoughts, Brinkman learned, when they see the plane on the runway, and it becomes real. “But I wanted to do it real bad,” he says. The only time he was frightened at his debut jump, he says, was when the door to the plane opened, 15,000 feet above the ground. “The first moment I got scared,” he says, “is when I felt the wind.”

Emotional swings: At his first jump, fear quickly gave way, says Brinkman, to a disorientation that lasted about three seconds. Then it was pure joy. “You get into free fall and it's incredible,” says Brinkman. “It's the most exhilarating thing I've ever experienced.”

Follow through: Brinkman says that first jump did two things. He proved to his team he was a man of his word, and they could count on him. “The team was blown away,” he says. (And employees on the ground waiting for him had a blast watching Brinkman land.) The jump also got Brinkman hooked on skydiving. “I love the quiet dichotomy,” he says. “You go from a rocket ship to a sailboat in a matter of seconds.”

Family history: Brinkman's dad, while not a skydiver, was helicopter pilot. That's one reason Brinkman gravitated toward airborne pursuits, be it skydiving or rappelling off a building wall. “I wouldn't call myself an adrenaline junkie,” he says. “But I do like to push myself.”

Cool sight: Brinkman's dream skydive would be a HALO - high altitude-low opening jump, where the person opens his or her parachute at a low altitude after free-falling. It's a difficult, precise jump that the military often uses to drop people and supplies. Not only does Brinkman want to do a HALO, he wants to do it in Alaska. Says Brinkman: “I hear that's so beautiful.”

Pushy habit: While skydiving is a once-in-a-while passion, Brinkman has other interests. One is something he does four times a day, every day: 200 pushups, in sets of 50 at a time. He does one set when he gets up, one in mid-morning, another in the middle of the day at the bank and a fourth at home before bed. He read years ago that former college and NFL running back star Herschel Walker had a similar routine — and that's enough for him. “I think it's one of the best things you can do,” says Brinkman, “and you don't need a lot of weights.”

First down: One of Brinkman's favorite pastimes is coaching his kids' football teams. Brinkman says he likes the teamwork and camaraderie, and having a chance to influence young people in a positive way. It's also another form of release. “When I (coach) I'm 100% immersed in it,” says Brinkman. “I'm not thinking about work. I'm not thinking about a problem I have to solve.”

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