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Community-first leader, Bank of Tampa founder dies at 88


  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 3:45 p.m. May 18, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
A. Gerald Divers
A. Gerald Divers
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  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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Corey Neil had just started working at the Bank of Tampa in the early 2000s when he met the bank’s founder, A. Gerald Divers — someone Neil says was already a local banking legend. 

A commercial lender, Neil asked Divers to come with him to some client meetings. “He was my closer,” Neil quips. 

On one car ride to a client, Divers at the wheel, the bankers chatted about community involvement at different banks. Neil said he would be happy to donate time and money to wherever the bank had clients and money, like he did at his old bank. “Jerry actually pulled the car over and pulled into a parking lot,” Neil says. “He looked at me and said ‘that’s not how we do it here.’ I want you to put your time into something that matters to you, something you are passionate about.” 

That was one of many lessons — in life and banking — Neil says he learned from his friend and mentor, adding Divers was a “patient, kind, modest and effective” leader. 

Divers died Friday. He was 88. 

“He saw himself as a community citizen first and being a banker was a conduit to helping the community,” Neil says. The dozen-plus boards, groups and organizations Divers supported, from art museums to blood banks, backs that up. 

Divers grew up in Clearwater. He attended St. Petersburg Junior College and later graduated from the University of Florida, with a major in banking and finance. He then attended the U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School and served some four years on active duty, on a ship in the Western Pacific and later NAS Cecil Field near Jacksonville. He was in reserve for 15 years, retiring with the rank of lieutenant commander. 

Up next? Banking. 

Divers got his first banking job in 1961, at The Exchange National Bank of Tampa, as a commercial lending officer. Promotions to run the trust department and executive vice president and director followed. He was later president of Flagship Bank of Tampa, which was sold to SunTrust, according to a statement. 

After that sale, Divers and a group of investors, in 1984, purchased the Independent Bank of Florida. The ownership changed the name to the Bank of Tampa to reflect its local-first approach. Today, the bank, with $3.05 billion in assets, is the largest commercial bank based in the region. It expanded to the Sarasota market in 2017 and made its first acquisition, of Hillsboro Bank in Plant City, in spring 2021. 

Relationship-based banking has long been the external focus. A big focus internally, says Neil and others in the bank, was leadership development. That shows in its CEO continuity: Neil is the third CEO in the bank’s 40-year history. Divers was CEO from 1984 to 2008, followed by longtime executive Bill West. Neil was named CEO in 2022, and West remains on the board. West, in a 2021 interview with the Business Observer, recalls Divers constantly prioritized leadership succession. “Jerry wanted to build a bank that could outlive him,” West said, “and he was successful at that.”

Neil says Divers, with that mindset, was a mentor to many, in the Bank of Tampa and beyond. (Divers served on the boards of ten different banks and was a director of Community Banks of Florida during his career.) One-on-one meetings with Divers were treasured — a nugget Neil says he knew but was cemented the day Divers died, when his email inbox and texts were flooded with notes.

Even into his 80s, Divers would come into the bank many days, suit and tie, to chat with bankers and colleagues and talk shop. The bank has an annual award, the A. G. Divers Award for Excellence, that, according to a LinkedIn post, is the “pinnacle of recognition…presented annually to a role model who possesses a strong work ethic, a positive attitude and is client-focused, self-motivated, dependable and involved.

Of the many condolence notes Neil received when the news broke, one that stood out was from a Bank of Tampa market executive and top commercial lender. That banker told Neil he went to lunch with Divers three times in the past six or seven years. “And he said ‘I’m a better person for it, and I’ll never forget it.’” 

 

author

Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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