Corbett's tactic of finding top CEOs in markets where CenterState plans to acquire banks has worked out well in several cities. Pomar attributes that success in large part to Corbett's instincts.
He has "a very good grasp on the future and he see things pretty clearly, even 18 months out ... and then you sit back and watch it come true," Pomar says. "So many of us can only look out three to six months and not very clearly. But he has night vision."
Corbett's prescience has helped not only CenterState, but other banks across the Southeast. In 2008, after many companies exited the correspondent banking business due to painful ties to failed banks, Corbett bought his way into it.
CenterState acquired nearly all of the employees in Royal Bank of Canada's bond sales division in Birmingham, Ala. That sales team was combined with the 40 employees CenterState hired in mid-2009 from Silverton Bank, a failed bankers' bank in Atlanta. The team brought with them bank clients from all over the Southeast that had lost relationships with Silverton, including Stonegate Bank, another failed-bank buyer in Florida.
"Corbett called me when we were both buying FDIC deals, and we share war stories and ideas," said Dave Seleski, president and CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based Stonegate. "We also do correspondent banking with them. They're very innovative and a rising star in the state."
CenterState's correspondent division now has roughly 570 bank clients and is a strong revenue generator for the company. For Corbett, adding a correspondent division also was a part of his plan to build relationships with banks he may want to acquire in the future.
Going into the crisis, "we set the company up to do acquisitions but we didn't have the rolodex" of bankers, Corbett said. "A part of our strategy in bringing the correspondent unit on was to get to know downstream banks better."
And Corbett has a knack for getting to know people. He was 16 years old when he met Pinner through church. The connection didn't pay off immediately—as a college student at Bob Jones University, the first time Corbett tried to get a summer job with First Union, where Pinner was then the market president in Winter Haven, Corbett didn't make the cut and joined a carnival instead. The following summer, he tried again and landed a job with First Union as a teller.
In 1990, Pinner sent Corbett through the bank's training program in Charlotte and then Tampa, and Corbett became a commercial banker under Pinner.
"Ernie took chance on me and he's taken a chance on me ever since," Corbett says.
A pivotal moment came in 1999, when Pinner left First Union and suggested that Corbett come with him to start a bank.
Both men were wary of the signals around them at First Union. A round of layoffs had begun, and the two men shared expectations that the corporate culture would become more centralized—sure enough, the company eventually would merge with Wachovia.
"He knew I was frustrated, and really we were looking for the next challenge in life," says Corbett, who worked at First Union for 10 years. "Over a series of lunches, we talked each other into it."
Even after Pinner and Corbett agreed to start CenterState, and had raised $10 million in capital, Corbett's excitement over the new endeavor remained tinged with terror. On the day CenterState opened, "Ernie and I and seven employees opened the door and nobody was there," Corbett says. "I thought, 'Oh gosh, we made the worst mistake of our entire lives.'"