Alex Sink leverages political recognition to help build a Tampa investment firm

"Alex Sink is one of the best known people in the state."

That's how John Hill Jr., a senior managing director at Tampa boutique investment bank Hyde Park Capital, on Thursday boils down the potential value and impact of Sink joining the firm on a part-time basis.

The odds are pretty good Sink will open many doors for the firm, especially in South Florida, where Hyde Park Capital wants to do more mergers and acquisitions and more raising of capital for smaller companies. The investment bank is looking to leverage her high profile as Florida's former chief financial officer and the Democratic candidate who last fall narrowly missed becoming the next governor of Florida, as well as her years as the head of Bank of America in the Sunshine State.

In an interview Thursday at Hyde Park Capital's stylish second-floor office in downtown Tampa, a relaxed Sink says she'll spend half her time as a "senior adviser" for the firm. That means she will be a roving ambassador, splitting her duties pitching the Hyde Park Capital brand from Miami to Palm Beach and Boca Raton, and working from her new office in the firm's Franklin Street headquarters.

The other half of her time, Sink says she will spend building her nonprofit public policy institute in Tampa. Is she going back into politics? Sink still uses the same catch phrase: "Never say never."

But it's clear Sink wants to get her institute up and running for two reasons. First, it will help promote more moderate ideas to grow and diversify Florida's economy, and to raise the education bar in the state. Second, it will remind Floridians that alternatives exist to a Republican governor and Legislature whose singular focus on slashing the size of government and cutting oversight of businesses may spur an eventual backlash.

It's tough to attract young people to Florida, Sink warns, if public education and the quality of family life decline.

Sink spent Thursday taking interviews while settling back into a familiar business world. Not only is she back in her comfort zone of finding financial ways to make Florida businesses grow (and her new bank profit). She's also getting reacquainted with downtown Tampa, just blocks from where I first interviewed her 18 years ago as the new state president of NationsBank, now Bank of America.

Sink's landed on friendly turf. Hyde Park Capital founders Hill and John McDonald, former managers at Raymond James Financial, are clearly big fans. And Hyde Park Capital's advisory board, made up of heavyweights like eye doctor entrepreneur Dr. James Gills, Florida banker legend Hjalma Johnson and Sykes Enterprises founder John Sykes, happens to be chaired by another Democrat who made an unsuccessful run in 2002 to become governor: Bill McBride, Sink's husband.

Ultimately, Sink argues, she does not have to be in public office to push her ideas to improve Florida's economy.

Maybe. It's hard to stay in the spotlight once out of office. Former Gov. Charlie Crist, trounced in a Senate bid, is fading into his job at the Morgan & Morgan law firm. Yet Jeb Bush — blessed with a famous family name — remains politically viable years after leaving the governor's mansion.

Sink's still enjoying the celebrity of a name many Floridians recognize. For now.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Alex Sink leverages political recognition to help build a Tampa investment firm 04/07/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 7, 2011 11:23pm]

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