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top workplaces: leaders

Why these three Tampa Bay bosses are liked and respected

Out of an impressive pool of talent running many of Tampa Bay's best workplaces, what makes employees credit these three managers more than any others for top leadership?

These three imbue their workplaces with a strong sense of purpose, passion and personality. They are also veterans with many years of experience backing their actions.

After talking to them, I'm pretty sure I'd follow any of the three into battle.

All three set high standards. They motivate people to want to do good — even great — work. They encourage employees to be creative and go the extra mile. They celebrate winning but demand accountability. They act like family. They inspire loyalty. They speak of discipline but try to make things fun.

Those are some of the diverse ingredients shared by this year's trio named for their leadership skills in our annual Top Workplaces survey. The three are:

Among large businesses, New York Life's Tom Kelly, senior vice president, AARP operations, who runs Tampa's 638-employee insurance unit.

Among midsized companies, Residence of Timber Pines' Terri Osteen, executive director of Spring Hill's 153-employee, upscale senior living community.

And among smaller businesses, Banker Lopez Gassler's Robert Banker, managing attorney of the 140-employee Tampa law firm, a 2008 spinoff of the Tampa firm Fowler White Boggs.

Top leaders breed strong workplaces. It comes as little surprise that New York Life ranks as the No. 1 workplace, again, among large Tampa Bay businesses participating in this year's survey.

The Residence at Timber Pines is No. 2 among midsized companies after a growth year; in 2010, it ranked No. 2 among small companies. And Banker Lopez Gassler ranks No. 3 among small businesses in this year's survey, moving up from No. 5 last year.

At New York Life, Kelly enjoys the status of a powerful track record, heading a unit that's grown dramatically since he was hired to help start in Tampa 17 years ago. "Our turnover is very low," he said. "I'm proud of that."

At the Residence of Timber Pines, which looks more like a high-end hotel than a traditional home for seniors, Osteen and her closely knit staff enjoy a waiting list of customers even in this economy. In a daily morning standup meeting that includes members of Terri's Team, there's frank discussion about the handful of staffers who aren't up to snuff. "It's not being a tyrant," she explained. "It's high expectations."

Banker Lopez Gassler was created three years ago when Fowler White Boggs' trial attorneys chose to spin off as a new law firm dedicated to courtroom trial battle rather than representing large corporations and wealthy people. A Tampa lawyer for half a century, Robert Banker runs the show with tough-love paternalism. After all, with the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner as one of his personal clients all those years, Banker knows something about keeping the tough and ornery happy.

"We all know each other," he says of his firm in a stentorian voice befitting trial law. "We all do about the same thing."

Contact Robert Trigaux at

Tom Kelly, New York Life, Tampa

Title: Senior vice president, AARP operations.

Age: 64, retiring next year.

Running Tampa operations: 17 years, since it opened.

What employees say about him: Praise for his track record of success, good communication, talent for motivating, knowing everybody in company by name.

How he tries to lead: "I always value employees as our most valued resource. … It all starts with our employees, but we need those employees to deliver on our services. … I have their respect because of my knowledge of the industry and an ability to make things happen."

Best detail: Tampa unit started up in 1994 with 25 people and is approaching 650. When recruiting, company's strong reputation generates lots of job referrals.

Terri Osteen, The Residence at Timber Pines, Spring Hill

Title: Executive director.

Age: 49.

Running senior living facility: Since 2000, when it opened.

Family-run parent company: The Goodman Group, Chaska, Minn.

What her top team members say about her: "The facility is almost her second home and the residents know her children. … The Residence tries to offer four-star hospitality, like a fine hotel. … She takes ownership of the place. … Terri can sell people on this place. She's a great closer."

How she tries to lead: "I set our standards high. … None of us compromise on our ethics. … Ask yourself: What if Disney ran your assisted living facility? … Residents, employees, buildings, bottom line: That is the order of our priorities."

Best detail: The first thing food service director Michael Bokosky (who calls Osteen "Miss Terri") does upon our meeting is to hand me a laminated, wallet-sized copy of the Residence's "platinum" service standards, mission statement, list of values and three-point service approach. Standard No. 7: "I never say 'no' to an opportunity to serve our residents and to improve their living experience."

Robert Banker, Banker Lopez Gassler PA, Tampa

Age: 76.

Running law firm: Since firm was spun off in 2008 from Fowler White Boggs, where he worked since 1961 and as one of managing partners for 30 years.

What current employees say about him: "He always seems to do the right thing, even when it may not be the most profitable for the firm at that time. In other words, he puts people ahead of profits. … He makes everyone feel that their job is essential. … Helps facilitate a feeling of family and community within the firm. … Work is well-organized, fairly distributed and he listens well."

How he tries to lead: Fair compensation is a hot button. Rather than give a 5 percent raise, for example, across the board, Banker makes sure attorneys making less get higher percentage raises than those at the top. "I am not a socialist," he laughs. "But if everyone gets the same increase, the guys at the top just keep running away with the most money." … "This isn't a sweatshop, but I expect people here to try and win every case. If you're here until 3 in the morning, that's okay."

Best detail: The Tampa law firm's boardroom has a gong (in the St. Petersburg office, they raise a pirate flag). The firm bangs the gong every time there's a courtroom victory. That frequently happens, given 30 court cases in any given month and plenty of wins. Says Banker, in a line reminiscent of the movie Jaws: He's going to need a bigger gong. "It's camaraderie," he says.

What New York Life employees
say about
Tom Kelly

"Adapts extremely well to the changing financial environment and economical pressures. Tremendous recognition for successes throughout the organization."

"Communicates and leads. He exemplifies confidence!"

"Has the right people in the strategic positions to assist him in making decisions that benefit our position in the workplace."

"He has a great talent for motivating and challenging people."

"He's very open and approachable. He runs the organization with great enthusiasm and honesty."

Residence at Timber Pines employees say about
Terri Osteen

"A great place to work. My boss is the best!"

"Miss Terri is a good boss."

"People care and listen. The residents and employees are extensions of our own family. Terri is tops over our other managers. I love my job. God bless each of us."

"We work as a team, and we have a great boss."

What Banker Lopez Gassler employees
say about
Robert Banker

"He always seems to do the right thing, even when it may not be the most profitable for the firm at that time. In other words, he puts people ahead of profits."

"He makes everyone feel that their job is essential and that each person is an integral part of the organization."

"Helps facilitate a feeling of family and community within the firm."

"Work is well-organized, fairly distributed and he listens well."

Why these three Tampa Bay bosses are liked and respected 04/16/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 17, 2011 3:03am]
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