As the founder, CEO and chairman of Florida’s First GREEN Bank, Ken LaRoe is an outspoken advocate for the environment and for values-based business—while generating a sizable profit for investors. Here, and on the coming pages, we meet ICBA’s National Community Banker of the Year, as well as the regional winners. All are being recognized for their exceptional work and dedication to their local communities.
By Roshan McArthur
Twelve years ago, Ken LaRoe was on the verge of retiring. After a successful career spanning about 20 years working in the industry, he sold his Florida-based bank, bought a mini motor home and headed across the country with Cindy, his childhood sweetheart and wife. His brother gave him a book for the road: Let My People Go Surfing, the autobiography of Yvon Chouinard, Patagonia’s billionaire founder and committed environmentalist. By the time Ken and Cindy returned home, thoughts of retirement had, well, retired.
“A light bulb went off,” LaRoe recalls. “Here’s this guy who never wanted to be a businessperson, who was certainly very much on the socialist end of the spectrum, and he [started a business] because of his commitment to the environment. He has never wavered, never deviated, never put profit first. He always put doing the right thing first. I thought, ‘If he did it for the clothing business, I can do it for the banking business.’”
A new chapter began—an extension of LaRoe’s banking career but with a far more personal goal. After graduating from Florida State University in 1981, LaRoe fell into banking “out of necessity and sort of by accident.” It was the height of a recession, and there weren’t many jobs. Faced with working in the offshore oil industry or in retail, the self-confessed homebody instead chose to stay close to his birthplace in Eustis, Fla. He took a job as a management associate at Flagship Bank in Tavares, Fla., and enjoyed it so much that he followed it with a successful turn at nearby Colonial Bank. Then, in 1999, he founded Florida Choice Bank, grew it to more than $400 million in assets and sold it to Alabama National Bancorp in 2006.
“I was pretty much always an environmentalist. I just didn’t really know what it was.”
—Ken LaRoe, First GREEN Bank
Meanwhile, his interest in environmental issues was growing. “I was pretty much always an environmentalist. I just didn’t really know what it was,” he laughs, harking back to a childhood spent hunting and fishing.
“I just knew it seemed insidious to defile the very planet we rely on,” he continues. “As I became more aware of what’s going on, my commitment grew. I finally came to my senses about 15 years ago. I said, ‘I’ve got to change my approach to everything.’ At that point, I really started to immerse myself in environmental issues, but now it’s grown to include everything of value.”
Read the full article here.
Courtesy of Independent Banker.