Steve Raney

Lessons in leadership

Raymond James Bank CEO and Double Gator Steve Raney shares the critical leadership insights he’s gained over his 35-year career in banking.

When Steve Raney (BSBA ’88, MBA ’99) first came to the University of Florida, he thought that law school would be his next step upon completing his bachelor’s degree. One semester working in the UF Law library, though, was enough for Raney to know law wasn’t the path for him.  

Instead, he focused on his original interests of finance, economics and accounting – three subjects which would serve him well in his nearly 35-year career in the banking industry, the first 17 years of which were spent at what would eventually become Bank of America in his hometown of Tampa, Florida.

Raney got his first job as a credit analyst out of college with Bank of America thanks to the UF Career Expo held at the O’Connell Center, a long running event that is now known as Career Showcase still held in the same iconic UF location.

The Bank of America team trained him for a year, leading to his next role as a commercial banker. He then became the leader of a small team within the bank, which got him thinking about how he could expand his education and leadership skills. The answer to doing so was to earn his Executive MBA.

While the decision to come back to UF for his MBA was simple, the road to completing the degree was fraught with challenges, both in his professional and personal life.

“In my second semester of the program, the largest merger in the state was happening at the time between [Bank of America predecessor] NationsBank and Barnett Bank in Florida,” he said. “It was a contentious situation. There were a lot of people who were competing for jobs.”

Raney was in Gainesville for one of his monthly class weekends when he started receiving calls from people across his team who said they were leaving NationsBank because of the merger.

“There was a mass resignation,” he recalled. “I was fielding calls during my classes.”

On top of managing his team during the merger and pursuing his Executive MBA, Raney and his wife welcomed their two children, born 15 months apart.

Overall, Raney said the experience was one he was grateful for. The joys of becoming a father and the friends he made in the program were well worth the challenges.

After earning his MBA, Raney remained with Bank of America and eventually became the local market president. Knowing his next step with Bank of America would likely require a move out of the state, Raney was intrigued with an offer to consider joining the Raymond James Bank C-suite, a position that would allow him to stay in his beloved hometown.

“The [Raymond James] bank was small at the time,” he said. “It was at about $1.5 billion in assets when I joined the team. They were looking for someone to lead the growth of the bank. It wasn’t a startup, but it was very entrepreneurial and exciting to be a part of.”

Raymond James Bank would indeed find the leader it was looking for in Raney. He is close to celebrating his 17th year with the bank as Chairman and CEO. In that time, he’s led the bank’s growth from $1.5 billion in assets to $42 billion.

As CEO, Raney described his role as being a combination of many areas.

“One of the challenges is that you wear a lot of hats,” he said. “It’s really a combination of HR, finance, accounting, regulatory matters and business strategy. As someone who doesn’t have a big tech background, technology has also become something that I have to think about as we evolve the business.”

Despite the variety of areas Raney must keep up with as CEO, he feels well equipped in his role thanks to important lessons learned throughout his career and from the leaders that he looks up to, including former Bank of America Chairman and CEO Hugh McColl and Chairman Emeritus of Raymond James Tom James.

“I have been blessed to have had some great managers,” he said. “If you’re not working for someone you respect, then it’s going to be hard to come into work every day.”

As a leader of nearly three decades, Raney has collected a distinguished pool of insights that would serve aspiring and young leaders well in their careers.

One piece of advice Raney notes has assisted him focuses on the importance of team inclusion and recognition.

“I am always encouraging young leaders to give credit to the whole team and to employ servant leadership,” he said. “It’s important to leverage your team, but also make sure you’re giving your team credit, putting them first and making sure that you have a healthy trust level.”

Raney also urges young leaders to understand that they are consistently being evaluated for potential growth by those in higher leadership roles.

“For our newer professionals, there are a lot of people watching them to see what kind of leader they can be and what kind of responsibilities and challenges they can take on,” he said. “Young professionals can really separate themselves by being more visible and vocal about taking on additional responsibilities.”

Raney is proud to note that Raymond James has played a role in developing great leaders who started out at the University of Florida. A recent gathering of Gators who work at Raymond James included at least 300 people, Raney recalled.

“We like to hire a lot of Gators,” he said. “Let’s face it, [UF] is the flagship, and we have the best and brightest students who are in high demand, especially in Florida. The strength of the business school makes it a natural place for us to find great hires.”

Raney’s pride in hiring University of Florida graduates at Raymond James extends into his reason why it’s so great to be a Gator.

“UF has become an outstanding institution and the students are so well-rounded – their work ethic, intellect and involvement in all kinds of activities,” he said. “All of these things have created an environment to produce great graduates.”

Beyond his work at Raymond James, Raney is committed to many community non-profits, including the Florida Council of 100, Moffitt Cancer Center and Starting Right, Now, an organization that works to support homeless high school students with mentorship and other opportunities to end the generational cycle of poverty.

Now that his sons are young adults, Raney has turned his focus from raising them to spending his free time with his wife Natalie, supporting all the Tampa Bay sports teams and playing golf with many of the great Gator friends he made during his time at the University of Florida.