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Buy and buy

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  • | 11:00 a.m. September 11, 2015
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In most Florida community banks, during the banking crisis, words like takeover and buyout were taboo, only whispered in the break or boardrooms.

Quite the opposite for Polk County-based CenterState Banks Inc., the holding company for CenterState Bank of Florida: Those words are part of the reason it thrived during the recession. And for top CenterState executive John Corbett, it's been an exciting time in the bank's history.

Since 2009, Corbett has overseen the purchase of 11 small community banks around Florida — six of them in deals completed in conjunction with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
“We are growing when others are faltering. It's a counterintuitive strategy,” Corbett says. “The FDIC guaranteed future losses and sold banks at a discount. We've made a profit since day one.”

American Banker's Community Banker of the Year in 2012, Corbett has been president and CEO of CenterState Bank of Florida since 2003. Corbett, 46, was recently promoted to president and CEO of the holding company as well, part of a long-term succession strategy. Corbett replaces longtime central Florida banker Ernest Pinner, who retired from the CEO role of the holding company, but remains executive chairman.

Several banks entered or grew on the Gulf Coast during the downturn in other deals where the FDIC guaranteed future losses. But CenterState, through timing and a strategy to go on the offensive while competitors sat back and waited, has taken full advantage of the opportunities. CenterState is now the seventh-largest Florida-based bank, with 57 branches in 23 counties. It had $3.9 billion in assets and $3.1 billion in deposits through June 30, according to FDIC data.

The institutions CenterState acquired through agreements with the FDIC were mostly small community lenders that failed due to overexposure in construction and real estate loans. In June 2010, for example, CenterState acquired $205 million in deposits and nearly $225 million in assets from Community National Bank at Bartow and Ocala-based Independent National Bank, according to FDIC statements. Regulators shuttered both those banks.

CenterState's other acquisitions, not connected to the FDIC, were more for geographical expansion. That list includes TD Bank branches in rural Putnam County, east of Gainesville, and Boca Raton-based First Southern Bank.

Bank acquisitions, independently or with the aid of a federal agency, are complex. But Corbett says those deals motivate him to go deeper and do more for the bank. Corbett worked with Pinner at First Union National Bank for most of the 1990s. The duo and other investors launched CenterState in 2000.

“I love complicated deals. They get my adrenaline going,” Corbett says. “I love to find ways to make it win-win. It's great to watch the teams come together and build something more valuable than we had before.”

Acquiring other banks, while a way to grow its presence, isn't the only reason CenterState is successful. CenterState has loans that can be categorized in, for the most part, three areas: small business, investor real estate and single-family homes. That mix has also helped the bank.

“It was different for us (during the banking collapse) because we didn't have near the exposure to speculative land development deals,” Corbett says. “We are in a slow growth economy that will probably last longer than most recoveries we've had. And, in our view, there is still some growth left.”

At a glance
CenterState Banks
Polk County-based CenterState Banks has acquired 11 banks since 2009.

The list includes:
TD Bank Branches in Putnam County

Federal Trust Acquisition from The Hartford Insurance Co.

Gulfstream Business Bank

First Southern Bank


FDIC-assisted acquisitions:
Ocala National Bank

Olde Cypress Community Bank

Independent National Bank

Community National Bank of Bartow

Central Florida State Bank

First Guaranty Bank and Trust Company of Jacksonville


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