"I want my employees to know that everyone’s contribution is important.”
Adorning John Kanas’ desk at the BankUnited headquarters in Miami Lakes, Florida, is a quote from Winston Churchill that captures Kanas’ business philosophy: “Never, never, never give up.”
The same might be said of 200 guests who braved an unexpected snowstorm to glean insights and a remarkably candid perspective from Kanas at the fourth Business Leaders Breakfast, at the Marriott Long Wharf in Boston on March 8. Among students attending were the members of Gordon’s varsity baseball team, including Kanas’ son, John Jr., a Gordon senior. BLB events are part of the Conversations with the President series of interviews conducted by President Michael Lindsay. The BLB provides a forum for Christian business leaders in the Boston area to connect with the College and hear firsthand from chief executives of national organizations. Kanas—BankUnited’s chairman, president and CEO—shared humorous stories of his humble roots and his path into banking, and spoke of how his faith sustained him in the darkest moments of his career.
He forthrightly recalled his greatest personal failure, when in 1990, the bank he led was devastated by the nationwide real estate collapse. “Our stock price dropped to 35 cents a share,” he remembered. “I had to face a room of 700 employees and tell them my job was to reduce our ranks to 400.”
Kanas’ career and professional fortunes rebounded with the economy in the ’90s, yet the experience drove home a lesson he applies to his current position at the head of Florida’s largest bank.
“We define our success by financial metrics,” he said, “but also by what kind of culture we have created in the organization. I want my employees to know that everyone’s contribution is important.”
As for the future of banking? Ironically, Kanas sees a weakness in size. He said many U.S. banks are “too big to understand, too big to manage,” and noted that bankers are seen as villains (with some cause, he acknowledged). Yet the majority of U.S. banks are community businesses promoting good will and good corporate citizenship locally.
“We don’t hear enough about that great story,” he said.