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Next BankUnited Chief on What It's Like to Follow a Legend

It's never easy following a legend, but that is what Rajinder P. Singh will do when he takes over as president and chief executive of BankUnited next year.

The departing boss, John Kanas, is "among the titans of this era of banking," Joseph Fenech of Hovde Group said in a research note this week after Kanas announced he would retire as CEO of the Miami Lakes, Fla.-based BankUnited on Jan. 1.

Yet if Singh is overawed at the prospect of replacing a leader of Kanas' stature, he's keeping his doubts to himself.

"I've run businesses. I've run large parts of corporations, but I've never been the guy where the buck stops," Singh said in an interview Thursday. "It's a new level of responsibility, one I don't take lightly. Trust me, I had to think about this for several months."

He added that observers will notice little difference in BankUnited's strategy or operations. Singh said he wanted to see BankUnited continue adding new business lines and expanding into new markets.

"I don't want BankUnited to be a one-trick pony," he said. "I don't want us to be limited to doing one or two things."

Still, steady as she goes will be the dominant theme.

"I'm not an outsider with a different viewpoint. I've been with BankUnited since Day 1," Singh said. "My fingerprints are all over this company."

Since news of the transition broke Wednesday, Singh said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"I'm very pleased with it," he said. "People seem to trust me. I've been involved with strategy and operations for a very long time."

But Singh also acknowledged some in the investor community had anticipated Kanas' departure would be accompanied by what Fenech characterized in his research note as a splashy "end-game" transaction, either a sale of the company or a highly accretive acquisition.

For them, a changing-of-the-guard involving a 70-year-old CEO and a 45-year-old successor was bound to be a disappointment.

It shouldn't be, Singh said.

"Those that know me know how aligned with the shareholders I am," he said.

Singh, who has served as chief operating officer since 2010, is "an excellent choice" to succeed Kanas because of the significant contributions he has already made to building the company, Fenech wrote.

Thomas M. Cornish, president of BankUnited's Florida region, will succeed Singh as COO.

Kanas, who will continue as BankUnited's nonexecutive chairman, said he'll continue to play an active, supportive role, assisting Singh, working with clients and investors and providing advice and guidance to employees.

"[Kanas] gets to do what he loves and does best," Singh said. "I'm going to lean very heavily on him, especially in New York. His Rolodex is large, and his reputation is legendary."

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