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South Florida Business Journal – By Kevin Gale

good to great awardAutoNation, Preferred Care Partners, Steven Douglas Associates and RBB Public Relations were named winners of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce Good to Great Awards.

John Kanas, chairman, president and CEO of BankUnited, gave the keynote address about what Good to Great means, and hinted at further growth ahead for the largest Florida-based bank.

AutoNation (NYSE: AN) won in the 1,000-plus employee category. The Fort Lauderdale company is the nation’s largest automotive retailers. It employs 17,000 at 205 dealerships. It was named the Most Admired Automotive Retailer by Fortune magazine five times within seven years.
Preferred Care Partners, one of the largest Medicare Advantage health plans in Florida, won in the 250 to 999-employee category. The Miami company has been on Inc. magazine’s list of fastest-growing companies.

Professional services firm Steven Douglas Associates won in the 51 to 249-employee category. The Weston-based company helps clients identify and gain access to top talent, including executive search.

RBB Public Relations won in the one to 50-employee category. The Coral Gables-based firm was named 2008 Agency of the Year by PRWeek and 2009 Boutique Agency of the Year by the Holmes Report.

Kanas talked about his version of 10 steps involved in “Good to Great,” the name of a book by Jim Collins. Kanas grew Long Island, N.Y.-based North Fork Bancorp. into an $80 billion-asset bank before selling it in 2006 to a subsidiary of Capital One.

In May 2009, Kanas led a consortium that acquired BankUnited and converted its business model to a commercial bank after its previous incarnation as a savings bank collapsed with Florida’s real estate downturn.

Kanas pulled off on the earliest and biggest deals involving the FDIC and a failed bank. He has been credited in the national financial press for being savvy when many investors were more hesitant.

Kanas related the 10 steps to what he’s gone through in turning around BankUnited:

Decide where you want to go. It can be people or ideas. “I think probably the idea comes first,” he said, although, with BankUnited, the idea and people came together. Kanas, who briefly retired in 2007 after working for Capital One Financial Corp., said: “It wasn’t until the bank environment became terrible that I realized there was an investment opportunity.”

Find the bus to get you there. “In my case, the business was BankUnited,” he said, but he looked exhaustively at 87 banks from coast to coast before making his move.

Decide who the driver of the bus should be. “I made the decision I would drive the bus,” he said. Sometimes, however, executives need to realize they are not the right person to drive the bus.

You need to get the right people on the bus and get the wrong people off the bus. That may be the most important point, Kanas noted. The banker said he faced that at BankUnited, not because of a talent issue, but because the bank need to convert from being a thrift making wholesale mortgages to being a local bank. The bank still has 1,200 employees, but 250 new faces, which represents a “skill set shift,” he said.

Kanas said he has been impressed by the work of the legacy BankUnited employees who’ve stayed on.

He also singled out Carlos Fernandez-Guzman, who recently stepped down as senior VP of community banking to become CEO of Pacific National Bank, as being a friend and very helpful during the process.

“Once in a while, you have people hop off the bus when you don’t want them to hop off the bus,” Kanas said, but he understood the opportunity for Fernandez-Guzman to be CEO of his own bank.

Fernandez-Guzman, former chairman of the chamber, was in the audience and drew widespread applause when he stood up.

You need to make sure to show everyone the map. Without being specific, Kanas confirmed widespread expectations that BankUnited will make further acquisitions. “Frequently, and sadly, we find people don’t understand how to get where we want to go,” Kanas said. It’s important for executives to help them understand the route to get there.

Constantly check the fuel tank. In the late 1970s, North Fork was growing rapidly, and Kanas said he was caught off guard and had to move quickly to raise more capital.

Make sure to infect all of the riders on your bus with a culture of discipline by setting an example. Some CEOs might put their feet up and leave earlier, “but it has never worked for me,” Kanas said.

Don’t forget to read the road signs along the way. They do warn of changing conditions, Kanas said, so don’t be afraid to take a detour. “We all know how fast conditions are changing today. Some for the better and some for the worst.”

Know when you have gotten to your destination. In the case of North Fork, radical changes would be been needed to reach $300 billion in assets, he said. “I knew and all my partners knew that was it,” he said.

now when to get off the bus. At North Fork, Kanas said he realized he would have to replace himself as CEO or sell the company because the business was going to need to change. “You all are in different spots and different places in your efforts to create greatness,” he said, saying that America is made up of millions and millions of small companies that aspire to be great.

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