John Kanas knows how to make a showy entrance.
Freed from all constraints of a 2012 legal settlement, Kanas has launched an aggressive advertising campaign as BankUnited (BKU), where he is chief executive, aims to hire 80 to 100 people in New York in coming months.
For starters, the Miami Lakes, Fla., company last week debuted an online sales pitch, titled "An Open Letter to Bankers in America," which lets prospects upload resumes. "Spinning your wheels in the wrong place?" the letter begins.
"Inside hundreds of banks in America are thousands of experienced bankers managing profitable businesses that are being held back by their own institutions," the pitch says. "If you …are tired of being starved for growth capital and attention, contact us immediately."
The $12.4 billion-asset company is already poaching talent, hiring a lending team from M&T Bank (MTB). BankUnited also hired Sam Giarusso, a retired M&T executive, to oversee its commercial real estate division in New York.
BankUnited's hires will mostly work in new, high-profile branches clustered in midtown Manhattan. Four branches — three new offices and a former Herald National Bank site — should simultaneously debut "any time now," Kanas said in an interview Tuesday. The company is also planning to open a branch on Long Island.
It's all part of what many bankers expect will be a push by Kanas to build BankUnited into a New York powerhouse in much the same way as he built North Fork Bancorp. Kanas sold the $58 billion-asset company to Capital One Financial (COF) in 2006 for nearly $15 billion.
"Certainly we have plans to further expand [in New York] but we'll measure that over time," Kanas said.
It will take at least six months for BankUnited to gain traction in New York, Kanas has said in previous interviews. After that, the company should book roughly $500 million in loans each quarter, focusing on commercial and industrial lending, real estate and multifamily loans. Giarusso and his team will have a big role in that effort.
Giarusso "was our biggest competitor at North Fork," Kanas said during a January conference call discussing quarterly results. The new hire "can identify any location or physical location or any building in New York."
A flashy entrée into New York comes on the expiration of a legal settlement between Kanas and Capital One, which has claimed that Kanas had violated a noncompete agreement when BankUnited bought Herald National. The settlement barred BankUnited from opening branches around New York through Jan. 31.
The delay could actually benefit BankUnited in New York, where big banks are cutting staff. Still, total head count among U.S. financial institutions rose 4.7% last year compared to 2011, according to analysis by FIG Partners.
Kanas' blunt tactics could serve him well, says Chris Marinac, an analyst at FIG Partners. "It may be deemed 'aggressive' to some, [but] I feel it appropriate that a hiring bank CEO be quite open and honest about the challenges facing many traditional bank employees," he says.
There is a belief among some industry experts that BankUnited's flirtation with selling itself last year could complicate the hiring process. The company opted to remain independent when offers came in below expectations.
"BankUnited is private equity-backed and, therefore, some of their senior-most people are concerned about how long the bank will be around," says Tom Watkins, partner at Chartwell Partners, an executive recruiter in Dallas.
Recruiting prospects with an online pitch, including an ad on American Banker's web site, is unusual, says Scott Petty, another Chartwell recruiter. Kanas will "probably get flooded with people he doesn't want to hire when you put out an ad like this," he says.
Other community bank chiefs in the Northeast say they would probably refrain from using the same tactic to lure talent.
"I hope it works for him," says Thomas Petro, president and chief executive of the $1.1 billion-asset Fox Chase Bancorp (FXCB) in Hatboro, Pa. "We take a more targeted approach [to hiring] but part of that is because of our small size. If I were [BankUnited's size], I would have to look at different ways of doing it."
An online pitch "is one way to go about it," concedes Frank Sorrentino, chief executive of $929 million-asset ConnectOne Bancorp (CNOB) in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., which is also considering expansion into New York.
"We're trying to identify the people who have the right fit," Sorrentino says. "I don't want to comment on how someone else does their business."
BankUnited has hired about 1,000 people in Florida, where it has 93 branches, finding "a very adequate talent pool" in the state, Kanas said.
Kanas appears to be taking one last swipe at Capital One as he moves ahead in New York. When the McLean, Va., company bought North Fork, it inherited the seller's Long Island headquarters in Melville. Capital One still occupies the building, located on Broad Hollow Road.
BankUnited is preparing to open its first Long Island branch less than a mile to the south of the Capital One location. Also facing Broad Hollow Road, the branch will rest on the south side of the Long Island Expressway.
"It's where we always expected to open a branch when we were planning this," Kanas said.