CEO of St. Petersburg’s BayFirst Financial to retire; successor named

Company president Thomas Zernick will replace retiring CEO Anthony Leo later this year.
Anthony Leo will retire as CEO of St. Petersburg's BayFirst Financial at the end of 2023.
Anthony Leo will retire as CEO of St. Petersburg's BayFirst Financial at the end of 2023. [ Times (2014) ]
Published Feb. 6|Updated Feb. 7

A publicly traded St. Petersburg bank has announced that its CEO is stepping down — and it already has his replacement lined up.

BayFirst Financial Corp. announced Monday that Anthony Leo, who has been with the company since 2013, will retire at the end of the year. Company president Thomas Zernick will ascend to the CEO position on Jan. 1.

Leo led BayFirst through a period of rapid change. The bank, which has eight locations throughout Tampa Bay, went public on the NASDAQ in 2021 under the name First Home Bank. The company last year rebranded as BayFirst Financial.

“It has been an honor to serve as CEO of BayFirst during this period of growth and transformation,” Leo said in a statement. “I have worked with Tom for over six years and am confident he will be a strong leader for BayFirst. I look forward to working closely with Tom and the executive team for the balance of 2023 to ensure a smooth transition.”

Zernick, who joined BayFirst in 2016 and has been its president for about a year, will also join the company’s board of directors. He previously served as president of BayFirst’s CreditBench division, which facilitates government-backed business loans. Leo will remain a director and work on other strategic initiatives.

Over the past year, BayFirst has changed its lending strategy. While it is still a top U.S. Small Business Administration lender in Florida and across the United States, it has shuttered its residential mortgage division, resulting in more than 125 job cuts at office closures in Tampa, Clearwater and elsewhere.

Related: St. Petersburg's BayFirst Financial will close Clearwater office, lay off 58

As of Dec. 31, the company had $939 million in assets under management.

“During (Leo’s) tenure, BayFirst grew from a small community bank with $69 million in total assets to nearly $1 billion in assets,” board chairperson Anthony Saravanos said in a statement. “Tony has been instrumental in the evolution of BayFirst into one of the premier banking institutions in the region, and among the top SBA lenders in the nation.”