Brian Lamb's ability to excel at both math and basketball coming out of high school in Tallahassee in 1994 provided him some extraordinary choices.
Colleges that offered scholarships included Stanford, Cornell and Fordham in New York City. The University of Tennessee and the University of South Florida called, too.
Lamb chose the University of South Florida — a pick he's never regretted. “I make hundreds of decisions in my business life,” says Lamb, now president of the Tampa Bay region of Fifth Third Bank. “Going to USF is the best decision I ever made, short of marrying my wife.”
Lamb played point guard for the USF basketball team from 1994 to 1998. He was the team captain for the last three of those seasons, before he graduated with a bachelor's degree in accounting. His playing career also provided him his first major bout with adversity: At the end of the 1996-1997 season, when he was a junior, he tore his rotator cuff. He rehabbed and fought his way back to play his senior season, a recovery he says was an integral life event.
Now 36, Lamb reaches into his USF experiences and life lessons daily, if not several times a day, with Cincinnati-based Fifth Third. Lamb's Fifth Third division covers all the bank's operations, from retail to commercial to private banking, in Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties. With more than $2.1 billion in deposits, the unit is spread over 47 offices with 350 employees.
While Lamb brings his athletic competitive nature to banking, and he has ambitious growth plans, he sees his post in broader terms. Indeed, he spends a good amount of his non-bank time with community, economic and arts organizations. The long list includes the USF Board of Trustees; the Straz Center for the Performing Arts; and the Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. Lamb also mentors young executives.
“It was never that I wanted to be in banking. It was never that I wanted to be in accounting,” says Lamb. “I just wanted to be someone who could positively influence lives.”
Lamb's first job after college was with TECO Energy, where he worked in finance and accounting. He had several leadership roles there, and worked directly with TECO President and CEO John Ramil, one of the few people Lamb calls a mentor. Ramil, says Lamb, sets an example of how to achieve work-life balance.
Lamb speaks glowingly of his days at TECO, and likely wouldn't have left the company if Home Discovery executives didn't recruit him. The Tampa-based firm, which tried to shake up the residential real estate market with lower commissions, named Lamb CFO in 2004. Says Lamb: “The entrepreneurial itch got the best of me.” (Home Discovery co-founder Richard Heruska is also a 40-under-40 winner. See page 16.)
Fifth Third named Lamb CFO in 2006. He later ran commercial lending, then private banking. Working in several areas of the bank, says Lamb, helped him learn about both Fifth Third and its customers.
Preparation from other mentors, in addition to Ramil, came from Lamb's father, Eugene Lamb Jr., and Tampa-area business and sports icon Lee Roy Selmon. Lamb's father is currently a county commissioner in Gadsden County, just west of Tallahassee. Lamb says his father was, and is, a constant presence in his life, and has taught him how to lead by example.
Selmon, meanwhile, was the USF athletic director when Lamb played there. Selmon, who died in 2011, was also on the Fifth Third board of directors when the bank hired Lamb. “He set a great example for all the athletes,” Lamb says, specifically citing Selmon's humility, honesty and integrity. “We didn't have a lot of mentors like him.”
Finally, it was another mentor, Tampa-area auto entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank Morsani, who recently told Lamb something that resonated deeply. Morsani told Lamb you spend the first 30 years of your life learning, your next 30 years earning, and your last 30 years giving.
“That left an imprint on me,” Lamb says. “My vision is to leave a legacy of philanthropy, mutually beneficial relationships and professional success.”