Mel Martinez, 63, is JPMorgan Chase's chairman for Florida and Latin America. The former U.S. senator, who stepped down last fall and then served as an adviser to a Tampa law firm, took the job last month. He spoke with Sentinel staff writer Richard Burnett.
CFB: Why did you go into banking, given the challenges the industry faces?
The answer is twofold: First, because of the bank itself. JPMorgan Chase is a very solid bank that has moved through these difficult financial times in a way that is very different from most other banks. It has great leadership and has proven itself in the most difficult times. Secondly, the position itself was attractive. I felt it was a good fit for me, and an opportunity to do something that could make a real difference in the state of Florida.
CFB: What has been the toughest part of the transition?
In a big state like Florida, learning the organization, the names, the people and places involved in a far-flung company like JPMorgan Chase and getting a handle on it all. Also, this is a job that is new to the bank in many ways and has not really been defined in Florida. I've been talking to colleagues who are doing this job in other parts of the country, and that has been very helpful.
CFB: How visible do you plan to be in your return to Orlando?
Well, I am clearly back in Orlando. I am a full-time resident, something that I haven't been in a number of years. I'm excited about that. I will be spending some time in Miami, which is our main hub of operations and has always been a second home to me. I will also occasionally be in the Latin region, where we do a lot of business. But Orlando is my hometown; it's where I grew up, and you will see me out and about more often in community events here. That's what makes this job such a good fit for me. This is where I want to be.
CFB: As you talk to bank customers, what are the most frequent concerns that you hear?
I was at a small-business seminar today, and clearly small-business owners are looking for credit and for banks that are willing to lend. JPMorgan Chase has made a commitment of $10 billion to small businesses. We have also been encouraging people to hire people by providing lower interest rates to small businesses that are creating jobs. We are telling small businesses that JPMorgan Chase is committed to them and providing the credit they need to grow.
CFB: How would you describe the current "state of the union" of banking in Florida?
There's a lot of attrition among community banks, and there will be fewer in the marketplace going forward than there were a few years back. I think the shaking out will continue over the next year or two. But we still have many good, strong banks in Florida. JPMorgan Chase is not only strong here but nationally and internationally. Part of my portfolio includes Central Florida, Mexico and the Caribbean, so this is a very strong, global banking institution that can bring in a tremendous amount of business to a state, in terms of trade, agriculture, new high-tech business.
CFB: How long is this economic recovery going to take?
I'll leave the forecasting to the economists, but I will say that we are a long way from the dark days of the fall of 2008. I remember being in a meeting with [then- Treasury Secretary Henry] Paulson and [Fed Chairman Ben] Bernanke in those days, and, believe me, there was a lot of handwringing going on then. Nobody was sure how things would turn out. Thankfully, we've seen the worst of the crisis and we're in recovery now.
Richard Burnett can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5256.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun