Second Time Around
Manny Perdomo returns to lead SunTrust in South Florida
Manuel M. Perdomo started out as a bank teller who struggled to balance his register the first day, but he’s carved out a career working for some of the nation’s biggest banks—currently serving as president, CEO and chairman of SunTrust Bank of South Florida.
“The most wonderful thing about a career in commercial banking is dealing with the different elements of business and industry. They are all unique to themselves and I enjoy that diversity,” Perdomo says. “You are never doing the same thing every day.”
Perdomo, whose family came from Cuba in the mid-1960s, grew up in Hialeah and joined the management training program at Coral Gables Federal Savings and Loan after earning an MBA from the University of South Florida. The first step was being a teller.
At the end of the day, he watched a 16-year-old part-time teller balance her drawer and leave. “They made me sit there for hours to balance,” he says. It actually was a good experience for an MBA holder who thought he owned the world but quickly realized he still had a lot to learn.
Perdomo became friends at the S&L with Robb Hilson, who is now the national small banking executive for Bank of America. Hilson left Coral Gables Federal for Old Florida National Bank and Perdomo became a credit analyst there. During his nearly three-year stint, Perdomo was promoted to credit team leader and then client manager.
Perdomo got a call after Sun Banks and Trust Co. of Georgia merged and became commercial team leader for SunTrust in the Tampa market. After eight years in Tampa—and a week after marrying his wife, Maria—he got the call in late 1994 to be SunTrust’s international trade finance manager in Miami.
The timing was right because U.S. Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady had developed a debt reduction strategy for Latin American nations, which came to be known as Brady bonds.
“Before that, there was more than a decade of stifled business because of the debt crisis,” Perdomo says. “All of the sudden business in Miami became vibrant.”
Perdomo traveled a lot, made a lot of contacts and worked closely with the Beacon Council to draw more companies to Miami. “It grew fantastically well and was a great experience,” he says.
Things started to change at SunTrust, though, with a decentralized culture becoming more centralized. Perdomo said he thought, “Well, if there’s ever a time to step away and try something entrepreneurial, this would be it.”
Perdomo partnered with a client who exported industrial electrical equipment and became a minority stakeholder, COO and CFO of Universal Trading and Engineering in Miami. Non-business reasons disrupted that endeavor after 20 months, but Perdomo says he gained new perspective.
“Having to meet a weekly payroll changes your whole view of business. As a banker who returned to banking, I don’t just pontificate as other bankers do. I know it’s not easy to do the things business people do and meet that payroll.”
Perdomo joined Bank of America as a senior client manger in Miami, developing the business line in the commercial team. After nearly five years, he was asked to develop the team in San Francisco. There was a need for cultural transformation and new protocols. He was so successful that he became credit products executive for Bank of America in Charlotte in 2007 after two years in San Francisco.
That job involved dealing a lot with marine, auto and recreation vehicle dealers.
By the summer of 2008, Perdomo was signaling to clients that a major downturn could be looming and that they should prepare.
When the financial markets collapsed in November 2008, Perdomo says he woke up with $2 billion in yachts and RVs on his hands. He became well-acquainted with Marcus Lemonis, who is chairman and CEO of Camping World and the host of the CNBC show, “The Profit.”
About a third of his clients heeded Perdomo’s mid-summer advice and returned to profitability in February and March 2009. Another third didn’t react until that January and took until mid-summer to return to profitability. Unfortunately, the last third, some that had recently leveraged acquisitions or built Taj Mahal showrooms, didn’t make it, he says.
Perdomo said he had a great team that worked day and night to get equipment moving. He ended up becoming a problem solver, but asked the bank’s leadership if he could go back to doing what he was hired to do.
He got his wish and was named global commercial banking international products solution executive.
Unfortunately, after a year, the bank thought the team was duplicative of other efforts and decided to get rid of it. Perdomo accepted a retirement package and a one-year non-compete agreement.
That year represented a totally different career twist. Perdomo did a lot of research and wrote “Ganado,” the novelized story of his great-grandfather who went from being a butcher to a cattle magnate in Cuba. “Ganado” means cattle in Spanish, but is also slang for “I earned it,” Perdomo says.
Perdomo gave the book to his wife and feared the worst. “I figured she was going to kill this thing so bad,” he says, but she woke him up at 4 a.m., crying about how good the book was. He published the book, using his family name Manolo Mario, and it’s available on Amazon’s Kindle store. As of January, it had a unanimous five-star, top rating. Perdomo says it’s the start of a trilogy of books.
One day, though, the budding author got a call from SunTrust about a risk manager job, saying his know-how of the market here could be helpful. Perdomo discovered that SunTrust Chairman and CEO William H. Rogers Jr. had re-energized the organization and created a different culture with more diversity.
Perdomo returned to SunTrust as risk manager in April 2014, but was called out of a meeting in 2016. Margaret Callahan, SunTrust’s leader in South Florida, was becoming the new chief human resources officer for SunTrust, which opened up Perdomo’s current position.
“Stepping in is wonderful because I have used some of the knowledge I have and bridging the history of the bank,” he says.
SunTrust is regarded as a super-regional bank—it doesn’t have the assets of banks such as Wells Fargo or JPMorgan Chase, but it has enough size to accomplish what it needs to do in the markets it serves, Perdomo says. The big focus is on middle-market businesses rather than large corporations, but SunTrust also has a full array of retail products.
SunTrust offers products for working capital, capital expenditures, real estate and rolling stock like vehicles. It has specialties around leasing products and asset-based lending. It also has been assisting private equity transactions by providing acquisition funding, Perdomo says. Nonprofits also are another big customer base.
One of the major pushes at SunTrust under Rogers is being a purpose-driven organization with the motto “lighting the way to financial well-being,” Perdomo says. “He’s made it very important that it be translated to actions instead of just a slogan itself. The company is dedicated to reducing financial stress and turning it into financial confidence.”
SunTrust’s OnUp Movement website provides education on how to manage financing and has 900,000 participants. The goal is to get 5 million people enrolled over the next five years.
The approach of the movement is to ask people what they want to accomplish and then offer thoughts on how they can reach their goals. Part of this is driven by research that shows 73 percent of people are living paycheck to paycheck, Perdomo says.
Perdomo has made financial education a personal mission as well. He is on the national board of Clear Point Credit Counseling, which operates the Hispanic Center of Excellence in Doral.♦