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Talent search: Bank leader offers insights on finding, keeping top executives

The Bank of Tampa, behind a six-figure plus investment, places a premium on promoting from within.

  • By Brian Hartz
  • | 6:00 a.m. December 21, 2018
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Bank of Tampa executives, from left, Corey Neil, Bill West, Scott Gault and David Moore. Courtesy photo.
Bank of Tampa executives, from left, Corey Neil, Bill West, Scott Gault and David Moore. Courtesy photo.
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Not only has the Bank of Tampa, with nearly $1.7 billion in total assets, been around since 1984 — practically an eternity for a Florida-based community bank — its continuity of leadership is remarkable in an industry prone to churn.

Co-founders James Ferman and Gerald Divers remain involved on the board of directors, for example, while the CEO — only the second in the bank’s history — is Bill West. He joined the bank in 1993.  

Executive Corey Neil, hired in 2003, has risen through the ranks to become chief banking officer, and David Moore, who joined five years ago, was recently promoted to COO. Scott Gault, the bank’s Pinellas County market president hired in 2015, has been given additional responsibilities for Small Business Administration and treasury service functions, in another sign of grooming future internal C-suite leaders.

“Succession planning is never a yearlong process; it’s a multiyear process.” Bill West, CEO of the Bank of Tampa

West, 67, recently spoke with the Business Observer about how the Bank of Tampa finds and nurtures talented banking professionals who demonstrate executive-level leadership potential. Edited excerpts: 

What are some of the most important leadership traits you look for when identifying talent for executive-type career tracks?

A: You look for technical skills, but that has to be somewhat of a given. When you start to get elevated, there’s probably nothing more important than emotional intelligence — the ability leaders have to see and think of themselves as other people, but at the same time, be agents for action and activity. You want somebody with a high level of emotional intelligence but also enough confidence in his or her ability to move the organization forward. And when you have those two things, you want to take advantage of that and give those people opportunities for advancement.

With all of the churn and consolidation in Florida’s banking sector, how does the Bank of Tampa maintain long-term continuity among its leadership?

A: It’s a credit to our culture. What’s important to us today will be important to us tomorrow and important to us next year. Our tagline for many years was, “We Build Relationships,” and we mean that — with our staff members, our community, our customers and our prospects. That resonates with many people who want to have a banking career in Tampa. For folks who want to come work somewhere and have a reason to believe the culture is going to remain stable over the course of their career, I think they can feel good about coming to work here.

The Bank of Tampa spends a lot of money grooming people like Neil, Moore and Gault for higher positions, sending them away to executive leadership schools for weeks at time and hiring coaches to work with them. Why is it important to have that level of commitment?

We spent several hundred thousand dollars training Corey, David, Scott and a few other people. It’s not cheap, and it’s hard to do when you’re a community bank with only 265 employees. You have to do what you can, which I think is what we’ve done, to give them as many new things to think about until the right opportunity presents itself. Succession planning is never a yearlong process; it’s a multiyear process. We know that something is going to come along for them and our job is to get them as ready as possible for whatever our needs might be at the time.

What gives you confidence Neil, Moore, Gault and others like them will be able to effectively lead the Bank of Tampa after you and others aren't there?

We take comfort in the fact that we’ve done this before. When I got the opportunity 11 years ago to become CEO, Jerry [Divers] stayed as chairman and we did a nice handoff. There was a lot of stability while we changed the leadership. There are two main reasons why banks get sold: One, they have asset quality problems, and the other is that they don’t plan for succession. So when the CEO decides it’s time to hang it up, there’s nobody to turn it over to.

How far ahead do you plan for new leadership?

Our leadership succession planning efforts are broad: We’re developing different people for future advancement, people in various positions, both men and women. We’ve been talking today about the top of the organizational chart but we’ve got people right behind them who we’re also developing for future leadership.


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