About the interviewee:
Ken LaRoe is the CEO and founder of First GREEN Bank, a community bank in Central Florida with a values-based business model of “People, Planet & Prosperity.” LaRoe has been in the banking business for over 30 years. He founded Florida Choice Bank in 1999 and sold it in 2006 after it had grown to more than $400 million in assets. He started First GREEN Bank in 2009 after being granted the last banking charter in the state of Florida. The bank has since expanded to 5 locations and grown to more than $280 million in assets.
LaRoe was recently appointed to the board of directors for the Global Alliance for Banking on Values and the Brain Injury Association of Florida. He is also a LEED accredited professional and provides scholarships to employees to attain LEED Green Associate and Accredited Professional certification through the U.S. Green Building Council.
Tell me about your company:
First GREEN Bank has 5 locations throughout Central Florida, and a total of 63 employees. Our Mount Dora headquarters is LEED-certified platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council, and is outfitted with eco-friendly materials and runs on solar power. We’ve received the Bauer 5-star rating from the nation’s leading independent financial institution rating service for 11 consecutive quarters, and as of Q2, had accumulated more than $280 million in assets.
We were recently named one of the 50 fastest growing privately-owned companies by the Orlando Business Journal and took home a Silver Stevie at the American Business Awards for Company of the Year in Banking, Financial Services and Insurance. We serve individuals in the community as well as businesses, and have become a magnet specifically for social entrepreneurs who share our ethical values.
What type and size of companies do you have as clients?
The type of companies we usually work with are locally owned businesses with sales size of up to $20 million. We do serve clients with higher sales revenues, but a large portion are in the range of $1 to $20 million. The small business clients are diverse from manufacturers, to general contractors, to restaurant owners and doctors. We also work with faith-based organizations.
What comes to mind when you think of “breaking the mold”
Breaking the mold in business is showing people that you can be a successful business owner, cut a profit, and still do the right thing. I was inspired to break the mold by Yvon Chouinard, who is the founder of Patagonia. I read his book “Let My People Go Surfing” after I sold the first bank I started, and was traveling the country. I’ve always been a dedicated environmentalist and a capitalist, and the book helped me realize I could incorporate both my passions in business.
A lot of people told me I was crazy to start a bank in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and even crazier to start one with an ethical mission, but I’ve proved them wrong. That to me is breaking the mold. If what you’re doing isn’t unsettling to people, then it’s not probably not all that remarkable or different.
What are the best practices for being innovative and on the cutting edge?
Look ahead to the future and look inside yourself. Take your biggest dreams and amplify them tenfold. Throw the word impossible out of your vernacular. Look at what your peers and fellow business owners are doing. How can you improve on it? How could you implement similar measures in your business? Stay on top of trends in your industry and on a broader scale. Your budget may be limited by your current funds, but your vision should never be.