You can't blame John Kanas if he sounds a bit liberated by his decision to retire as president and chief executive officer of BankUnited in Miami Lakes, Fla.

Kanas, who will turn 70 later this year, said he has devoted the vast majority of his waking hours to bank business since taking over at BankUnited in May 2009.

Hard work, to be sure, but it has paid off handsomely.

Recall that BankUnited had actually failed prior to the arrival of Kanas, who recapitalized the then $12.8 billion-asset thrift, known formerly as BankUnited FSB, with help from Wilbur Ross and other prominent private-equity investors. Now, the company boasts $26.3 billion of assets. Through the first six months of 2016, it reported net income of $111.6 million.

It's clear, too, Kanas continues to think fondly of North Fork Bancorp, the Melville, N.Y., company he joined as a management trainee in 1971. At one point in an interview, he even referred mistakenly to BankUnited as North Fork.

That should come as no surprise, though. After being named CEO in 1977, Kanas built North Fork into a $60 billion-asset powerhouse before presiding over its sale to Capital One in 2006.

The sale price? A very cool $15 billion.

Kanas' BankUnited retirement takes effect Jan. 1. He will continue as BankUnited's nonexecutive chairman, while Chief Operating Officer Rajinder P. Singh will assume his executive roles. Singh, who has served as chief operating officer since 2010, is an ideal successor, Kanas said.

Yet Kanas has no intention of retreating quietly into the board room. Here's an edited transcript of American Banker's conversation with Kanas about his future role with BankUnited, his reflections on banking and a hint at what's next for him.

Can you describe the role you envision playing after Jan. 1?

JOHN KANAS: The board and I have been talking about this for a year or more. I'll be the nonexecutive chairman. I'll spend a good deal of my time with our larger customers, with investors, and continue to work with employees to build the future of BankUnited.

Is that the part of banking you like the best?

It is. It's what I'm very good at. I'm a builder. I'm very good at building. … I'm giving up my administrative duties, but I'll continue to do the work I enjoy.

What made now a good time to step away from day-to-day management?

I've logged about 850,000 miles flying between New York and Florida, and I've been working 85 or 90 hours a week the past seven years. I've been a CEO for 40 years. That's 160 quarterly reports. It's time. … I was 60 when I left North Fork. In a couple of weeks I'm going to turn 70. I've decided these 10-year milestones are going to be important in my life. At 70, thank God, I'm in good health. Now I want to enjoy the next 10 years.

Do you anticipate a smooth transition?

Absolutely. Raj has been my partner for 11 years. He's been an important part of every major decision. The process couldn't be more smooth.

Are you making any significant plans to occupy all the free time you'll have?

Outside of banking, I own a lot of real estate. But helping Raj will be my primary focus for a year or two.

You've achieved incredible success leading two different banks. As you review your career, do your achievements at one carry more significance at than the other?

I was at North Fork a lot longer, 35 years, so I grew up at the place. North Fork was a tremendous blessing, but the success I've been a part of at BankUnited is very satisfying. I've done it two times, which is way more than anyone can hope for.

Looking back over your career, what about banking changed the most?

Technology. The advancement of technology has dramatically changed the delivery system to bank customers.

And what do you see as the biggest challenge banks face today?

The pressure on earnings that will continue unabated as long as interest rates remain near zero and the yield curve remains flat.

Any chance there will be an Act 3 in banking?

No. I'm committed fully to BankUnited. I may be part of some other project — but it won't be in banking.

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