One of the state’s most well-known bankers reflects on a long career, citing a focus on the basics as a key to success. ‘I kept things light, kept things simple,’ Bill Klich says.
Bill Klich is back.
The affable industry executive, who has led banks in nearly every market in Florida, including Miami, Sarasota and St. Petersburg, has been retired, save for some consulting gigs, since 2010. During his 40-year career, Klich, pronounced like click, mentored dozens of now high-level banking executives; worked for billionaire business titans, including former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hugh Culverhouse; and developed a reputation for overseeing complicated bank turnarounds.
On the last point, two revival projects standout: In Sarasota he oversaw the transition of Coast Bank, owned by Culverhouse, from a thrift to a commercial bank. In St. Petersburg he guided a turnaround at Republic Bank. SunTrust acquired Coast in 1993, while BB&T bought Republic in 2004. Klich held executive posts with both those regional banks after the deals.
Klich retired on top: as Florida president for BB&T, he helped oversee the complicated integration with Colonial Bank in 2010, the same time he was chairman of the Florida Bankers Association.
It was through the FBA Klich came back to work. The process began last summer at an FBA conference — where he was also given a lifetime achievement award. Klich met with Steve Hayworth, vice chairman of Orlando-based Seaside National Bank & Trust, at the conference. Hayworth recruited Klich to Seaside, to travel between the bank’s Tampa and Sarasota offices and help recruit bankers, work with managers and, of course, bring in clients, using his long list of contacts.
Klich, 74, started his new advisory role in April, commuting to Tampa and Sarasota between homes in North Carolina and Coral Gables, on the east coast of Florida, where he grew up. “It’s been very rewarding personally,” he says. “I had lost track with a lot of people.”
In a recent interview, Klich reflected on his career, successes and failures. Edited excerpts:
What’s it like being back to work after a long break?
I’m finding people still want to meet with me and still want to do business with me. It’s been stimulating. It’s not nine-to-five and I don’t manage anyone. I just enjoy getting out there on the street to see what’s going on. And I’m not a golfer; I’m one of the few bankers who has been successful not playing golf.
What are some of the keys to your success in banking?
‘I’m not a golfer; I’m one of the few bankers who has been successful not playing golf.’ Bill Klich
No. 1, I could talk to walls. No. 2, I genuinely enjoy people. Both at Coast and Republic, I wanted to put together a group of bankers who came from all cultures. Barnett had strengths with retail, others had strengths in wealth and trusts and others had success in commercial lending. I would put a management team together that brought all those skills and then give them a lot of rein to go do what they do best.
I also tried to focus on the basics. I kept things light, kept things simple. And you have to have a little bit of vision and take a little bit of risk.
I’ve also been blessed to be in great markets. How could you not do well in Sarasota? How could you not do well in Tampa Bay?
What mistakes have you learned from over your career?
Sometimes emotions would get involved and get in the way of branch location decisions. You could look at all the demographic studies that say no, but then you feel good about it because you drive by it every day. Finally I just decided to keep it simple: Wherever they built a Publix, that’s where I wanted to put a branch. And that’s back 20 years ago.
What was the best leadership decision you made?
At Republic we had five managers from five (industry) backgrounds and we had a bucket, where, if you said “this is way we used to do it at…” you had to put a buck in the bucket. I don’t care what you used to do, I care about what the idea is now. Tell me what you think we should do based on what you know right now. We also told people to put a buck in if they criticized someone else’s idea. I wanted everyone to feel comfortable coming up with new ideas.
What are some trends you are watching in banking?
Every 10 years there’s a reinvention of something done twenty years ago and then there also something new. The biggest thing now is technology. How much more will technology replace brick and mortar?