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Banker Katie Pemble sets sights on building a new branch network in Tampa Bay

Kathryn "Katie" Pemble, the new president of Community Bank of Manatee, says one of her chief tasks is building name recognition for a Bradenton-based institution with, so far, a modest presence in Tampa Bay.

Personally, Pemble, 45, doesn't have much of a problem with name recognition, particularly within bay area banking circles.

The daughter of a banker, Pemble rose to become one of the few female executives running a local bank. Her career path took her from a megabank (Pinellas County president for Bank of America) to a community bank (president of Florida Bank, formerly known as Bank of St. Petersburg).

She also was briefly in the public eye for dating Charlie Crist for roughly a year leading up to his November 2006 election as governor.

Last year, Community Bank was recapitalized by a group of private investors, and the bank holding company is now run by Brazilian investor Marcelo Faria de Lima. But Pemble says the bank's management team is still, like the name, community-focused.

Why did you leave Florida Bank?

The opportunity that Community Bank offered was something that was so comprehensive and really doesn't come around that often. This is my third job. I started with what was NationsBank, or Bank of America, in 1987. The number of mergers I went through was greater than five, less than 10. My second job was Bank of St. Petersburg, and this is my third job. I've always been about having a career and not necessarily working in a job. So really a change like this doesn't feel like a change to me.

We've seen two dozen Florida banks fail this year. What's the financial strength of Community Bank?

Our capital ratios right now put us well above those that are considered well capitalized by the FDIC and Federal Reserve and OFR (Florida Office of Financial Regulation). We've also got sound liquidity. The bank doesn't have any brokered deposits, which is a very nice thing to have, meaning our customers are local.

So you've rebounded?

Our 2009 financials speak for themselves. That was a very, very tough year for community banks. This year we made money in the second quarter. We were very happy about that. We were operationally profitable in July, and we're profitable in August. It looks like we've turned the corner. We'd have to have a little bit of luck to have a year-to-date profit. But I'll take luck any time.

How much did it help to have investors from Brazil and New York recapitalize the bank last year?

This new investor group put about $16.5 million into the bank, and the existing board since its inception raised and contributed an additional $3.5 million.

What they were saying is, "We're not tired. We're not fatigued. Yes, we've been through the ringer, but we remain bullish on Florida."

It's very infrequent, especially now, to have an opportunity to have a broad role with a company that has a vision for growth in today's economy and has the shareholders and the board that are committed to providing the capital that's necessary for that growth.

When I was in my first finance class up at University of Florida, (my professor) wrote on the board: Cash is king. He said, "Don't ever forget that. Any time I'm going to give you a problem it's going to come back to cash is king."

And right now, capital is king. In fact, at the University of Chicago … I heard from a friend who was up there that the new mantra is — let me write this down — CIMITYM. Or "Capital is more important than your mother." Which is basically the same thing as cash is king.

What's your growth objective in Tampa Bay?

We're already a Tampa Bay bank, but many people don't realize it. We've got three branches in Manatee and two in Hillsborough now. … Between Riverview and South Tampa, we cover a lot of territory.

I'm not in a position where I want to be that specific (on branch growth). I can tell you I want to raise the profile of the bank. We do want to be the best bank in Tampa Bay in terms of our customer service and our performance. To do that would imply certain growth.

As part of the growth, are you considering buying any troubled banks?

We are. I think everything is too early on to talk about it. There are also (individual) branches already available. Like in Hillsborough County, we're in a Colonial location that BB&T gave up.

How does Community Bank stick out from the crowd?

Small-business lending.

We're going to be a leader in providing capital, most likely in the form of SBA (Small Business Administration) loans. We can do that more rapidly than our competitors. Most community lenders do not have the (SBA) preferred lender status.

In 2010, a lot of people say no one is lending. So far, through July, we had $17.5 million in new loans. Half of those were 25 loans to small businesses. That's 25 new relationships. Our total loan portfolio is $180 million, so that's 10 percent growth. I know a lot of people who would be very happy with double-digit growth.

We've only seen a handful of female banking leaders in the region. Such as Alex Sink, who you worked with at Bank of America before she became Florida's chief financial officer. And Susie Martinez, who retired in 2007 as Florida regional president for Regions Financial. Is the men's club still in place?

I don't think of it as a men's club. There are plenty of times I'm the only woman in the room. But I've never viewed it that way and never felt inhibited from being able to be as successful as I want to be.

But there are a number of very successful women in banking. I went to the University of Florida. I'm an Alpha Delta Pi. There's about 18 of us that get together about once a year. One of them is very high level with Lydian Bank here in Florida. Another is president of Northern Trust Bank in Palm Beach County. A third one is senior vice president and head of all retail banking for Wachovia in North Florida. … So there are some meaningful positions that women hold in financial services.

Now that political season is in full swing, are you getting involved in any campaigns?

I'm always a little bit involved. I think politics is very important for shaping the future of our state. But, no, I haven't really pushed it out there to be very, very visible.

What about the big races, like your former mentor Alex Sink running for governor?

I have supported Alex in every race she's run — the last two races. And I'll continue to support Alex. I think it's tremendous she's in the position she's in.

And the Senate race between Charlie Crist, Marco Rubio and Kendrick Meek?

Now that the primaries are done, we'll really have a chance to hear what each of the candidate's plans are for the state and the nation. What I'll be interested to hear is who is focused on employment and commerce and helping businesses, small business and medium-sized businesses, be successful in Florida.

I'm a registered Republican, (but) this isn't about right or left or Republican or Democrat. For me it's about capitalism and allowing businesses to operate in a way they can grow and employ people and produce a product that is of value.

Banker Katie Pemble sets sights on building a new branch network in Tampa Bay 09/25/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 25, 2010 5:31am]
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