John Lyons, a longtime banking consultant, is trying to get used to the idea of actually running a bank.

"It's different, by God is it different," says the president and chief executive of Jupiter Tequesta National Bank, a $60 million-asset institution just north of West Palm Beach, Fla.

"I have got a fool for a client for the first time in my life," he laughs.

Until the end of last year, Mr. Lyons, 54, was managing principal of Lyons, Zomback & Ostrowski, a prominent New York-based bank consulting firm he formed in 1981. He jumped for the Jupiter post earlier this year after his contract with the consultancy expired.

Mr. Lyons helped form the bank six years ago and is its largest shareholder, with about 10% of the stock. He said the board wanted him to run the bank and move it to the next level.

Physician, Heal Thyself

But, after 25 years as a consultant, the transition to practitioner hasn't been easy.

"Advising somebody on improving their ROA and doing it" are two different things, he said in a phone interview this week. "I can sit down here and say, my God, that advice I gave was not quite on point. It doesn't seem to work that way."

Mr. Lyons' game plan is to find banks in Florida that want to affiliate under a holding company structure. He envisions a $400 million-asset company with a large investor base and a liquid stock. He said he's already in discussions with other institutions.

Mr. Lyons doesn't want to merge the banks, because it "blows all of your competitive advantages."

Technological Disadvantage

"What I have learned is that the power of the community bank is enormous," he said.

He said community banks can run circles around bigger banks by tending to their most valued clients.

The challenge for Jupiter and other community banks is to find ways to overcome the technological advantages that big banks enjoy, Mr. Lyons said.

He said community banks don't have to offer home banking services or their own credit cards. But they must be tapped into an automated teller network, and they must deliver service.

Mr. Lyons has been busy since taking over. Jupiter has opened a new branch, an investment department, and sold $14 million in mortgage-backed securities to shorten the maturity on investments. The bank lost $17,000 in the first quarter, largely because of increased expenses. But Mr. Lyons expects to post a profit for the year.

Jupiter returned 1.06% on average assets last year, and 13.92% on equity.

Lessons Learned

Mr. Lyons said the consulting experience has been invaluable. He points to the fact that Jupiter plans to sell annuities because it operates in a town of less than 5,000 people.

"The 5,000-person exemption is something I've known about for 25 years, now, I'm actually using it," he said.

As for the salary? "That is something that headed dramatically south upon leaving New York City," Mr. Lyons said.

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