September 19, 2016

John Kanas Steps Down

Banker John A. Kanas, who built once-local banks North Fork and BankUnited into powerhouses, is ending his tenure as chief executive officer (CEO) of BankUnited at the end of 2016, a move National Mortgage News called "the end of an era." He will remain as chair. Rajinder P. Singh, the current operating chief of the Miami Lakes-based bank, will become CEO.

Kanas will remain as chair of Florida-based BankUnited.

Thomas Cornish, currently president of BankUnited's Florida region, will replace Singh as chief operating officer. The new positions become effective January 1, 2017. "Raj has been a proven partner of mine, and I am excited about and proud to see him step into his new role," Kanas noted re the succession.

Building Strong Mid-Sized Banks

The Kanas era in banking stemmed from his acumen and leadership in mid-sized regional banks. John Kanas turned several local banks into powerhouses, the first from a small local institution and the second from the depth of the financial crisis.

Kanas headed North Fork Bancorp in Melville, New York for almost 30 years. He was a local boy in the once primarily agricultural community, and first encountered banking when he got a loan to buy the business that employed him as a student, at 19. From there, a set of regional contacts catapulted him into bank management, superseding an earlier plan to become a lawyer.

With Kanas at the helm, the bank grew from a local entity to a strong and well-capitalized bank widely considered a model for a well-run mid-sized bank.

When Kanas began at North Fork, the bank was valued at less than $10 million. During his era, due to efficient management, direct customer service, and mergers and acquisitions of lenders such as Southold Bank and Greenpoint Savings Banks, North Fork rose to $60 billion in assets.

Assets grew consistently under Kanas's leadership.

Not only that, but Kanas had a great sense of market timing. Seeing signs that the economy was slackening, he entered talks to sell North Fork that ended in a nearly $15 billion sale to Capital One in 2006.

The move to Florida was the result of Kanas's acumen in realizing that the financial downturn had created a number of bargains in banking. The government had seized the assets of BankUnited after the 2008 real estate crisis, and wanted bids from potential investors willing to revive the 80-branch bank and get it back into working order.

The group Kanas put together won BankUnited for a $940 million bid. Under Kanas, BankUnited's assets doubled, to more than $26 billion by the end of 2015.

Kanas also diversified BankUnited's service areas. The Florida-based lender currently has more loans outstanding in New York than it has in Florida.

New CEO Singh has worked with Kanas for over a decade. He was North Fork's head of corporate strategy and development in the 2005-2006 period and also worked at Capital One subsequent to its purchase of North Fork.

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