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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 15, 2016 2 years ago

Shine the light

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Andrew Samuel rose from bank teller to president of an $18 billion powerhouse, using many non-traditional banking approaches along the way. He seeks to duplicate his success in Florida.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

Executive Summary
Company. Sunshine Bancorp Industry. Banking Key. Bank has made several changes to facilitate fast growth.


In 2014, board members of Plant City-based Sunshine Bancorp knew they had to shake things up if they wanted the small bank, with five branches and 60 employees, to survive.

The three big goals: Take the company public. Hire a new CEO. Grow really fast.

A bank investor who was friends with Sunshine Chairman Ray Rollyson encouraged him to have lunch with a banker in Pennsylvania, Andrew Samuel. Rollyson Googled Samuel and realized he was president of the 37th biggest bank in the country, with more than 3,700 employees, at least $18 billion in assets and 250 offices nationwide. Thought Rollyson: “This is a waste of our time, there's no way he'll want to come to Plant City.”

Surprisingly, Samuel agreed to meet Rollyson and another one of the bank's founding members at a Cracker Barrel in Mango, Hillsborough County, while on vacation in Naples. Samuel shared his life story, and they told him about their goals for Sunshine. “We left the meeting just fascinated,” Rollyson recalls. “It kind of struck a chord that (Samuel would) rather build something than preserve something.”

Samuel remembers leaving the meeting thinking, “They need a lot of help.” Yet he hadn't really considered leaving his income level and responsibility at Lititz, Pa.-based Susquehanna Bank.

But when Samuel met back up with his wife, she said she had a feeling. “I think God wants us in the Tampa area,” she said. Samuel's response: “Hun, do you even know where Plant City is?”

Samuel, in a move that surprised colleagues and bankers in Florida and Pennsylvania, did take the job with the bank and move to Plant City. He joined the bank in October 2014, right after the company went public as Sunshine Bancorp (symbol: SBCP, recent price: $14.45). Today, Samuel is more than a year into his three-year aggressive growth plan for Sunshine Bank, and reports the bank is significantly ahead of its projections.

For 2015, Sunshine Bancorp reported total assets at $507.3 million, up 120.8% from $229.8 million in 2014. Organic loans grew $38.9 million and deposits grew $9.2 million. The bank's loan quality and capital structure are ranked among the top in the state, and deposit growth “has been stellar,” according to Samuel. Though the company reported a $2.2 million loss for the year, that's the cost-of-doing-business part of its strategic growth plan, he says.

Significant investments
When the 53-year-old Samuel first came on board, the bank needed a lot of help, he recalls.

For a 60-year-old company, it hadn't done much in the way of change. So his first task was to put together a three-year plan to invest in facilities, people and technology. The technology was so far behind some people still used typewriters in the office, Samuel says.

The first year consisted of building the facilities and rebranding. It also included growth opportunities through acquisitions. In June, Sunshine Bancorp acquired Lakeland-based Community Southern Holdings, a bank with more assets than Sunshine at the time. In November, the company expanded to the Sarasota-Manatee market, acquiring two branch offices from First Federal Bank of Florida.

The company has invested more than seven figures in updating facilities, as well as seven figures in technology. Within six months, the company invested in a mobile app and moved everyone to laptops so salespeople could be connected outside the office. Sunshine also moved from being focused on residential mortgages to a new mix of commercial and industrial loans, along with owner occupied and non-owner occupied commercial real estate.

Not everyone who worked for the bank could keep up with the pace of the changes, says Samuel. For that contingent the bank had a solution: a significant increase in the budget for severance packages. The bank, says Samuel, believes paying more for people to leave on good terms will pay off down the line.

Another key internal change was the bank's mission and values. At Sunshine this part was particularly important, and unique, in that it does not point to shareholder value or making money. The mission, instead, is: “Positively impact lives by helping people achieve their dreams.”

“If people want to be with you — we impact people's lives — if we can do that, we'll make a lot of money,” Samuel says.

Samuel immediately put together a book on the company's culture and expectations for dealing with colleagues and clients. It is the same book Samuel used at his last three banks. The book is provided to all new employees and to all employees of acquired companies to make the values clear from day one.

Culture is something Samuel holds sacred. It's why he's hired a chief cultural officer at previous companies and why he has employees attend an hour of values training each month. Says Samuel: “We try and communicate to our employees how we can impact people's lives — from the CEO to the janitor.”

Open the doors
The story behind Sunshine's rapid rise, in many ways, is just as unlikely as Samuel's life triumphs.

For starters, when Samuel came to the United States from India at 17 years old, he only had $200 and a small suitcase. He was counting on Messiah College in Harrisburg, Pa., to follow through with its promise he would be successful as long as he worked hard.

From there, Samuel says he achieved the American dream: He worked his way up from bank teller to CEO. He worked for both small and big banks, seven in total. He started banks and he merged banks. He also met his wife at college, and together they raised five daughters.

He says it was difficult to leave Harrisburg for Florida after forming so many bonds with local business leaders, where people knew him from the time he was a teller. According to Samuel, finding that community vibe is his biggest challenge at Sunshine.

That's not to say he hasn't made friends — in fact, his connections list includes some of the top business people in Florida. Sunshine board member and former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has helped open doors for Samuel in the community. The banker has quickly made friends with prominent Tampa-area business leaders such as philanthropist and entrepreneur Dr. Kiran Patel; HCI Insurance chairman and CEO Paresh Patel; and entrepreneur John Sykes, in addition to several Raymond James officials.

It's good company to keep when Samuel's goal is to continue to expand in the area, focusing on Sarasota, Tampa and Orlando. His other goal is to get to $1 billion in assets and achieve the top 20% in performance metrics (“quality is as important as size,” Samuel says), along with becoming a top place to work in Florida.

One of the best decisions Samuel made to achieve this was to put together a strong board of directors, he says. Sunshine had eight directors already in place; Samuel brought on four more and added one more from the community. It's an unusually large board for a community bank, but it serves a purpose. “Board meetings have gotten much more fun,” says Rollyson, now that the bank has changed to a growth mentality.

Next up for Samuel: Do more to get Sunshine's name known. “We've far exceeded what we thought we could do in the first year,” Samuel says, “so there's not much regret in the last 14 months.”


Headed South
Going from a regional banking giant to a small-town community institution is a rarity in banking.

The struggles in the community bank industry nationwide only make it more unusual.

But longtime Sunshine Bancorp Chairman Ray Rollyson went with the nothing-to-lose theory when he met with Andrew Samuel in 2014. Rollyson thought he had something of a banking kindred spirit in Samuel. “I can tell you are a man of faith that thinks unconventionally and isn't motivated by (material) things,” Rollyson told Samuel over their first lunch.

Turns out the non-conventional approach is exactly what attracted Samuel to the bank. That's not to say he hadn't done his homework. By his second meeting with Rollyson, Samuel had visited each of the bank's branches. “We left it open that we'd like to talk again,” Rollyson says, “but he had to take the big step.”

Perhaps Samuel's biggest success has been recruiting talented bankers who are also unconventional, according to Rollyson, who has been on the bank's board since 1991 and chairman for 10 years. “A bulk of the key executives came from Pennsylvania, along with some really good bankers from Tampa,” he says. “Most are making less money than they were, and that is attributable to Andrew.”

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