Within minutes of meeting Jerry Plush, anyone can see that he inspires trust with his easy geniality. The chairman and CEO of Amerant Bank is a relative newcomer to South Florida, but he’s certainly taken to his new life and job—both located in Coral Gables, and so have his wife Jess and his two small dogs—Eddie V and Jimi—both named for rock legends. Plush was a singer and guitarist in several rock bands in college and post-graduation. “If we get another, he will be named Stevie Ray,” Plush jokes. (Or is it a joke?)
All this is to say that Plush is an eminently accessible guy, and humble. It takes a few conversations for Plush to share that he recently rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange (Amerant transferred from the NASDAQ on August 29th) and can take credit for second enviable milestone: the announcement that Amerant Bank won the naming rights deal for the former FLA Live Arena, in Sunrise, in mid-September. “We’re very proud of the branding efforts to raise Amerant awareness through sports partnerships with the Miami Heat, the Panthers and University of Miami athletics,” he says. SFBW talked to Plush about being part of the Great Migration, Amerant’s clientele and what you have to do to raise your business profile in South Florida.
You’re from Philadelphia originally, right?
Yes, I’m a true native from birth through my college years—I lived in and around the city and the suburbs.
So, you moved here a little while ago as part of the Great Migration, which we’ve covered extensively in SFBW.
The irony is my wife and I had built a gorgeous home in Bryn Mawr. I was working in private equity on the Main Line of Philly by Villanova University. We literally had been in the house for a month—it was custom-designed exactly how we wanted it.
Bryn Mawr, the Main Line—so very Katharine Hepburn. Now you’re with all of us flashy people in Miami! Just as you scored your membership card into high society, you had to leave.
I didn’t even crack high society! I didn’t even get a month. But Coral Gables is not exactly shabby, right? It’s gorgeous here and we love it. Needless to say, I loved the idea of moving to Miami, so wasn’t much of a decision. I started the job in February 2021, and I moved here permanently shortly afterward. I really felt that being back as an operator versus an investor was something that made a lot of sense for me.
And your home is close to work?
Being close to work was one of the big things for me. I was within two miles of where my primary work office was [in Philadelphia] and it’s the same thing here. I think the key thing about the move to Coral Gables was to clearly show people that I was 100% committed to Amerant and to Amerant’s success. I’m one of those people—you’ll find as we talk through this—that I’m either 100% in—or I’ll do another thing that I can be 100% in on.
With inventory so low, was it difficult to find a place that you loved in the Gables?
We found a place literally within a week to two. The inventory was scarce, but it was a beautiful home that had been lived in for only a year, and we just pulled the trigger. I think I bought that house faster than when I’ve gone out to purchase a car, so it just felt right when we saw it. We’ve been able to take a beautiful place and do the custom things to make it our own and it’s been great.
Was there a moment in your life when you just knew you were in the right place, the right industry?
I’ve been very fortunate from a very early age to have been given significant material responsibilities. I started in my 20s leading public accounting and progressed throughout my career. I learned very early on the importance of treating others as you want to be treated and I think it’s been something that’s been key to my success in my career. We talk here at Amerant that we don’t have employees; we have teammates, team members. I think that’s something I learned early on, and I clearly got better at it over the course of my career. When I think about career progression, it’s been an opportunity to learn—you learn what to do and what not to do, and I think that that’s really important to reflect on—that no matter how well or not well a project went, there was an opportunity to learn, so you get better.
Speaking of opportunities to learn, can you call out a mentor who gave you essential guidance and advice?
It’s interesting, because in reflecting back at this point on a 40-year career, I would say that I’ve had a mentor virtually everywhere I’ve been; I don’t know that there’s necessarily been anyone more influential than another. As I was mentioning, I think I learned from everyone and I think that’s the key thing I am very grateful for—grateful to those who gave me the opportunity to progress, people who saw that I could do more things, could do different things. I’ve been very blessed. My preparation for being the CEO of a company really comes from having had multiple opportunities to do different things and to have held significant positions of responsibility and a diversity of experiences. In answering this question, I realize I may not have felt that way at the time, but I was very fortunate that I had people around me who continued to support me and open the door for other opportunities.
I respect that you’re too discreet to name names, but how did these mentors help you become an effective leader?
As I reflect on my career, I learned something from every leader I’ve worked with and I have benefited, as a result, from everyone, regardless of whether the experience was positive—or, in limited cases, not as positive. It helps shape who you are and what you believe is the right way to be as a leader. I do take very seriously our commitment to treat others as you’d like to be treated. As I tell my leaders, it starts with a simple acknowledgment to others you meet all day every day—a hello with a smile, a “How are you?” to everyone you see throughout the day. It just goes such a long way. Striving to consistently be genuine and approachable are such critical leadership components.
Tell me about your people strategy at Amerant.
I really feel that mentoring and developing is where I am having the most fun and impact in my role this year—helping others develop and thrive with new and different responsibilities. Getting people out of their comfort zone—for example, our current chief people officer, chief financial officer and chief operating officer all had very different responsibilities before, and having them rotate and take on new responsibilities they didn’t have on their radar, and watching them thrive in these new roles, has honestly has been one of the most satisfying things that has happened since I came here. I feel I was so fortunate to have had such opportunities in my career and believe that it’s important for me to do that for others now.
Specifically, what are your duties at Amerant?
I joined as CEO back in 2021 and I took on the chairman role in June of 2022, so my official title is chairman, president and CEO. Basically, that means overseeing an almost $10 billion publicly traded organization, so the role involves a lot of business development, a lot of setting the tone from the top, and a lot of involvement in the community. My role is about helping evolve Amerant to the next level.
What’s the most effective way to oversee personnel? The country has experienced a huge quit rate—the so-called Great Resignation—that seems to be ebbing a bit, but still, how do you know that your team is happy, that they’re not looking around for a better deal somewhere? How do you keep them incentivized with the proper retention and advancement policy?
I have the good fortune of being the person in charge, but part of our value set is treating others as we’d like to be treated. There’s been a lot of change here as we’ve evolved, but we want people who like each other, who want to help each other, who want to succeed and be involved in the community. I think that that’s infectious. I like being around people who have that same view in life—they want to belong to something that’s bigger than themselves. We’re incredibly proud that for the second year in a row we’ve been recognized as a most-loved workplace: We ranked number 48 in Newsweek this year. We just won that award and I think that’s a tribute to the people in the company feeling good about being team members at Amerant.
I know there’s no such thing as a typical client, but what kinds of people do you work with?
We are focused on corporate customers and private clients in addition to international. We have a very strong base of consumer retail customers, as well as offering customers anything from mortgages and HELOC loans to checking, savings and money markets. I’ll call them standard products, but also wealth advisory and all sorts of specialty and corporate financing. We’ve migrated away from what I’ll call the single-relationship model to a full relationship with our customers—people who embrace the totality that Amerant can bring you. For our bank’s size, we have a strong product suite in addition to a lot of expertise in those areas that I mentioned, and I think that’s what attracts clients to us.
I’m sure our readers want to hear about the New York Stock Exchange. What was the moment like?
It was a huge day for Amerant. The sense of pride our people felt and showed—wow. I was honored to be there with members of our board and executive management, representing all my teammates and getting to witness it all live. Getting to ring the bell and sign the book—that just a select group of listed company execs before me signed—was quite an experience. I can honestly say it wasn’t on my bucket list, but it’s really nice to say I got to do this!
The Amerant Bank Arena represented another indelible moment, right? The nexus between business and sports is quintessential South Florida.
The recent naming rights announcement takes our commitment to the region to a whole different level. There is no doubt that the Amerant Bank Arena naming rights deal is a key component in building our brand awareness here in South Florida. We had a lot of fun being creative with designs and seeing this come to life. I’ve heard from so many people—they are excited to see a local company like ours showing commitment to South Florida. And it was easy to take the next step based on our experience from the past two years, as we love the Panthers organization and are truly proud to be partners with them. We are very fortunate to have such great people to be associated with.
Photos by Nick Garcia