It’s mid-September and hurricane Ivan is looming in the Atlantic, 100 miles wide and terribly angry. The previous four weeks have seen Charley and Frances slam into Florida from both directions.

Colleen Kvetko and Bill Barnett are both on edge, she from her office in tony Naples, FL, and he thousands of miles away on vacation in Lake Placid, NY. Barnett will cut short his holiday and fly back to Florida; Kvetko’s dialed into her home office in Cincinnati. Ivan will eventually spare their part of the Gold Coast, but they’ve got reason to worry: Charley had roared up the Gulf, turning the place into a disaster area with $7 billion in damage and 27 killed. Ivan is many times more powerful.

Kvetko and Barnett have different resources on hand, but both are reliable in the crunch; Barnett’s the mayor of Naples and Kvetko, chief executive of Fifth Third’s Florida operation, probably could be if she wanted. But she’s more on the money end. “I asked if there was anything available,” she says, speaking of the Fifth Third foundation at the company’s mother ship in Cincinnati. “They asked the amount. I said $50,000. They gave it to me. I should have asked for a hundred. I hate leaving things on the table.” Last year, the bank’s charitable investments, which she directs, exceeded $411,000. Equally impressive, she helped raise more than $3 million for United Way, Hospital Ball and YMCA campaigns.

Kvetko also let her 200 employees, in shifts, volunteer with the hurricane cleanup. Pitching in is part of her style, and a mark of her growing Gold Coast brigade. Last month Fifth Third bought a bank Kvetko had scouted, Bradenton-based First National Bancshares. That will ramp up Florida operations to 90 stores from 16, spreading into Orlando, Tampa, Bradenton and several locations in Daytona Beach, Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale. “We’re going to be a big bank in Florida,” she says, reeling off a few numbers. Naples and the Fort Myers Gold Coast is a distinct community, driven by frenetic Florida growth around Fort Myers and a wealthy retired and resort clientele in Naples and surrounding islands. Old Naples itself has a touch of Wall Street South—brokers have flashy offices there, same as in the Hamptons. And Fifth Third now has the biggest market share in Naples. Fifth Third Florida as a whole is $6.3 billion, Kvetko says. “We can very quickly be a $10 billion bank. We can be a real player here.”

Results of her division, which has 189 employees, are impressive. As of May, loan volume is up $173 million, up 36 percent year-over-year; deposits rose $224 million, up 36 percent; and net income is $12 million, up 26 percent. She manages a portfolio of $613 million in loans and $840 million in deposits.

And in the last decade, the self-described “type-A impatient kind of Irish girl” from Cleveland has done a lot of the bulking up. Kvetko, who holds degrees from the College of Mount St. Joseph and Darden University, came down with three other people and $5 million to start Fifth Third’s Florida outfit. Very quickly she went to work on that cigar-smoking, old boy network, infusing herself into the Wall Street South community in Naples and the more southern-style surroundings. “I’m not going to say it’s been easy in this environment,” she says. “I made sure everybody knew me and that I got the name of the bank out. I was very visible, and I’m talking working at 7 in the morning to 7 at night and then going to an event until 11 or 12, sometimes working until 11 or 12. I had to do that to get the name of the bank out and gain the respect of the community.”

Those contacts and that work paid off. “It starts from there and you start gaining business, making partnerships with some of the good-ol’-boy network,” she says. And that chamber-of-commerce spirit, which truly describes her—Kvetko is involved in an arm’s-length list of civic groups, including a college for adult learners—is the means to a growing list of business lines and, earlier this year, an important milestone. Even though the Florida operation is part of Cincinnati, Kvetko’s got her own profit responsibilities and Naples has independence to make decisions. The $5 million she started out with is now $1 billion. “When you start with almost zero, and you hit these milestones—you hit 250, you hit 500,” she says. “There’s nothing like hitting a billion dollars.”

Yet despite her success and a few flashy touches, presented with a wink—a ragtop Thunderbird with Bank 53 plates and a well-known rhinestone pin that says “Business is Great”—Barnett says Kvetko is at first unassuming. “She’s the type of person you can run into at the grocery store and talk to,” says Barnett, former Toyota and BMW dealer, and 31-year Naples resident. He was one of the original organizers of Fifth Third’s new acquisition, First National. “You’d never know, until you started talking with her, how sharp she is. She proved her worth immediately. She’s a take-charge, get-it-done type of lady.”

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