Bankers are not exactly the most exciting people in the world. Even bankers are forced to admit it.
But then again, not every banker is Michael Roth, who was named Tampa Bay president of IberiaBank in March. Lafayette, La.-based IberiaBank has $15.67 billion in assets, and nearly 300 offices spread through Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas.
A Lakeland native, Roth has spent some 20 years behind a desk. But he has logged even more time in a military uniform, including at least a decade in the U.S. Army Special Forces. He's found himself in the Middle East a lot since Sept. 11, 2001.
Roth began his military career in 1989 as an infantry paratrooper, and by the mid-1990s he was an officer. Around that time the military started to downsize, and Roth pursued a banking career while serving in the Army Reserve. In 2000, he was accepted into the prestigious Special Forces training, and ever since has lived two lives: banker by day, soldier by night.
Roth not only runs the Tampa Bay operations of IberiaBank, which includes four locations each in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, but he's also a major, commanding the Charlie Company 3/20th Group out of MacDill Air Force Base.
The following are excerpts of a conversation with Roth on his career and life.
Good Pedigree: Roth grew up in a family not very military centered. His father is an accomplished chemist who works in the phosphate industry. “He was not a military person, but he ran the house like a military,” the younger Roth says. “My parents, especially as an enlisted man walking in, were a little disappointed because they thought I was wasting my potential.”
Misery and stress: The Army has a way of mixing “misery and high mental stress,” Roth says. That was one of the key attractions of military service over enrolling in college first. “It was something that I wanted to help me determine if I was as tough as I thought I was,” Roth says. “Being a paratrooper was physically demanding, but not as mentally demanding, but I still enjoyed it. I learned the importance of teamwork with one head, and not 20.”
Soldier's Life: Finding balance between the dangerous world of protecting freedom and the more comfortable world of banking isn't easy. The two sometimes bleed together. “One moment, I am sitting in a suit and tie in an air-conditioned office in downtown Tampa, and the next week, I could be sleeping on a dirt floor in a mud hut in Afghanistan,” Roth says. “My banking life and my military life complement each other, believe it or not. You have to be able to deal with different perspectives, different life goals, different critical issues, and somehow bring that all together into a cohesive team.”
Committed cause: Roth's passion fuels his commitment, which he takes quite seriously. “My family here in Tampa is not being shot at every day, where my second family in Afghanistan or Iraq are being shot at every day,” Roth says. “The military teaches a level of commitment, a level of responsibility we all need, whether it's in the banking world or the military.”
Come together: A strong banking presence, says Roth, is one that can bring people together, all with the common goals of finding success through projects and making money. “We are making millionaires, and these are people who might not have had the opportunity to be a millionaire without a bank behind them,” Roth says. “IberiaBank's goals are predominantly focused on relationship building, developing that commercial and personal relationship, and my life journey has helped me hone those skills.”
Moving back: Improvements in the economy have held steady enough to make more businesses comfortable about moving forward again, says Roth. That's good news for not just the economy, but banks as well. “Corporations are getting started on expansion plans, and everyone is finding a bit of a comfort level now that we are all creeping back up after the downturn,” Roth says. “Real estate values are growing, too, and will only get better as we start to grow Florida's population again.”
Alive and well: Companies in the best position to explode in growth in the coming months, says Roth, are those that were ready for the economic problems before the recession hit. “Those that survived the downturn were good at managing their equity properly and managing their growth structure so that they could absorb the hits from the economy,” Roth says. “But even with a better economy, it doesn't mean companies should not plan for the future. It's that preparation that makes a difference between being alive and well, and simply a part of history.”