Cleve Edward Warren is a Jacksonville native with a long track record in finance, education and community service.
To recognize his efforts, Leadership Jacksonville honored him this year as a community trustee. He received the OneJax Humanitarian Award in 2010 and also has been named to the First Coast Business Hall of Fame.
Warren, 63, is chief financial officer of Florida State College at Jacksonville, a position he took two years ago. Before that he held several banking and investment positions including with Barnett Bank of Jacksonville, Wachovia Bank, Community First Bank and Essential Capital Finance.
Warren’s economic development work includes serving with former Mayor Ed Austin and as executive director of the Florida Black Business Investment Board under former Gov. Bob Martinez.
His latest priorities include the Valor Academy of Leadership charter school for boys and the Virtue Academy of Arts and Science charter school for girls, which are governed by Profectus Learning Systems Inc. Warren chairs the organization.
He and his wife, Patricia, have two children, Errika and Brian.
Could you describe your childhood?
I grew up in a matriarchal environment with my grandmother as a leader of the family and her four daughters, one of them my mother. They provided guidance to eight grandchildren. My grandmother, it was quite clear to everybody that she was the queen of the castle. I often say if I could live life again, it would be to be my grandmother. She was a woman with a lot of integrity.
I remember my childhood as being one of encouragement, of being let loose to think independently, to explore and experiment, to learn from those experiences, and to be encouraged about education.
How did that lead to a long career in finance?
It didn’t lead to it at all quite frankly. I had no desire to be in a world of finance as a youngster. I had this growth spurt in about the ninth grade. I grew from being short to not being so short. I never think of myself that way, but I jumped up from probably 5-6 to 5-8 and thought I was going to keep growing.
My great desire was to be offensive center or right guard for the Green Bay Packers. I haven’t grown an inch since the ninth grade. So I had to come to the great realization that I was never going to be Fuzzy Thurston or Jerry Kramer, but I still wanted to be close to athletics.
I had a great desire to be a professional athletic trainer, but I just happened to graduate from high school in the midst of the Vietnam War and I ended up volunteering for military duty rather than waiting on the draft in my freshman year of college.
When I came back home four years later, determined to go back to school and determined to work a year to save money before going off to the University of Florida, probably majoring in physical therapy, I discovered Barnett Bank and fell in love with the place, the people, the atmosphere and the frontier that it offered for somebody like me to learn that skill and to become a commercial banker.
Barnett Bank was very encouraging of community service and you have developed a very strong track record. How did that come about?
It was an organization whose culture was one of community service. The bank encouraged all of us to get involved in the community. They allowed you time for those involvements and made a financial investment in them as well.
Wherever I am or whatever I’m doing vocationally, I don’t allow it to diminish my engagement in my community.
You now are involved in creating two charter schools.
The idea of the two charter schools, particularly the one for boys, is an outgrowth of a concern about where African-American boys are in our community and then what we should be doing.
We convened the community around something called the Urban Education Symposium to start a level of discourse that didn’t exist in our community about urban education, and more particularly how that is impacting African-American boys.
One of those ideas was this concept of gender-based education. We actually would have preferred that the school board accepted the idea but for lack of patience we decided to drive on with the concept but lo and behold, there were others not just in our community but nationally who were interested in helping with that.
Just last year we opened the doors at Valor Academy of Leadership. There are roughly 140 or so boys there. They are learning a lot both academically and culturally.
There also is a school for girls.
The research says without the competition of boys and girls in the same environment, they tend to do better. So we’re continuing the experiment with young ladies. It will open in August. We think we’ll have just a huge outpouring of young women or families interested in attending at the Virtue Academy.
You grew up in Jacksonville and attended William M. Raines High School.
It was a blessing to have been there when Andrew Robinson was principal. Dr. Robinson’s name is also on my undergraduate degree from UNF; he was the interim president when I graduated there.
The environment at Raines was one of expectation of excellence. Vince Lombardi would say that perfection is impossible to achieve but in the chase for perfection we can catch excellence. That was Dr. Robinson’s approach to how to motivate almost 3,000 young people at Raines High School.
It was the setup to encourage young people to believe that they could do anything.
It was also the time that we lived in a segregated environment where everybody at Raines High School, everybody in my neighborhood, everybody at my church, looked like me.
I encountered other people passing them on the highway on the dividing lines that separated us as a community. Those dividing lines don’t exist anymore and I do have to cross them and go back and forth when crossing the bridge from the community I grew up in to the one I’m in today.
But I have a passion for the restoration for the pursuit of excellence. And if I have to do that by separating ourselves in the form of a Valor or Virtue Academy then so be it.
Dr. Robinson was on the right track about how to encourage young people and to give them hope and the belief in self that they could do whatever the heck it is they wanted to do. But to do that required some preparation. There was some responsibility; personal responsibility you had to accept. I left there with that. And I’ve never lost it.
Today I still wear my Raines High School class ring to remind me of that experience and what my responsibility is to my community as a result of it.
Your career has focused on Jacksonville, but you spent a few years in North Carolina.
Back in the ’70s-’80s, growing up in Barnett Bank and Wachovia Bank was perceived as the Good Housekeeping Seal if you worked there for a while.
I left Barnett Bank in 1982 and spent some time with Wachovia and it was a great experience. I think I grew tremendously in the short period of time I was there and it contributed to later when I returned to Barnett Bank to the value added that I could bring to an organization like Barnett.
I loved the folks at Barnett Bank, one, for giving me opportunity to learn the business and two, for exposing me to the community at large and challenging my growth in a way that I just could not have envisioned, couldn’t have structured on my own.
Hugh Jones, Roland Kennedy, Albert Ernest. They were just treasures. Whatever I am doing today they are contributors to it, as was Virginia Lewis, my grandmother.
How would you describe your leadership style?
It is one of encouraging people to, in fact, lead. Someone said a good leader is a person who grooms others to lead.
My leadership style is to give people the room to do just that.
They are gifted generally with some capacity professionally and intellectually and you want to give them the room to exercise that and to groom them and to give them exposure.
That’s what happened to me in the Barnett organization.
I recall occasions when my mentor, Hugh Jones, would drag me to places and leave me to swim, but it was good for me to be comfortable talking to the people, to have conversations about subject matter that was important to their businesses, to our community and to our bank.
Do you have any advice for community leaders today?
It all has to do with being courageous.
There is still much to do in our community, particularly when it comes to how we bring people together around the difficult causes.
Too often we subject ourselves to group think when the time has come, maybe even past due, for us to be independent thinkers, to be courageous enough to step out of the box and to say to hell with the group think, here’s where it really needs to happen in our community and let’s stand up for what is right to do.
If we have more people like that who are willing to let the goodness in them be the basis of their actions, we could take a leap as a community.
What else would you like to share?
Jacksonville is a great place to live. I don’t say that just because I grew up here, but it’s because I grew up here that I’ve watched it evolve.
We have so much ahead of us it deserves to have our full attention.
ABOUT CLEVE WARREN
Title: Chief Financial Officer, Florida State College at Jacksonville, since 2013
Family: Wife, Patricia; daughter, Errika Mallett; son, Brian
Private sector: President and CEO, Essential Capital Finance; vice president, The Players Group, CapTrust Financial Advisors (four years in Raleigh, N.C.); partner and COO, The Players Group International; senior vice president, commercial lending, Community First Bank; vice president, metropolitan banking, Barnett Bank of Jacksonville; assistant vice president, national banking, Wachovia Bank & Trust, Winston-Salem, N.C.; started at Barnett Bank of Jacksonville, 1974-82.
Public sector: City of Jacksonville chief of economic development, 1991-94; executive director, Florida Black Business Investment Board, 1987-91
Associate of Arts, Florida State College at Jacksonville; Bachelor of Science, University of North Florida; Master of Business Education, Jacksonville University; pursuing Doctor of Education, University of North Florida.
Civic engagement includes: Baptist Health Foundation Board; Baptist Health Social Responsibility Committee; Eartha M.M. White Legacy Fund Advisory Board; First Coast YMCA Metropolitan Board; Florida A&M Board of Trustees and Foundation Board of Trustees; Jacksonville Public Education Fund Board; Leadership Jacksonville; Leadership Florida; Profectus Learning Systems Board; Tiger Academy Board.
Civic recognition includes: William M. Raines Senior High School Alumni Hall of Fame; University of North Florida Coggin School of Business Outstanding Alumni; OneJax Silver Medallion Humanitarian Award; First Coast Business Hall of Fame Award; Leadership Jacksonville Community Trustee Award
Military experience: Lieutenant colonel, Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Army Reserve; Major, Infantry Brigade, U.S. Army National Guard; Company Grade, Area Support Group, U.S. Army National Guard ; Staff Sergeant, Air Force Security Service, U.S. Air Force
IN WARREN'S OWN WORDS
Leadership style: “It is one of encouraging people to in fact lead. Someone said a good leader is a person who grooms others to lead. My leadership style is to give people the room to do just that.”
Students at Valor Academy: “I feel optimistically about the cohort of boys and those that will follow as we work on providing a vehicle to learn and grow in an environment that is conducive for learning. I have great expectations for what they will be as leaders in our community and to our country.”
Family: “I think it’s the Lord’s design that we would have the leadership structure that we had and the presence of my grandmother and my aunts and my mother.”
Working at Barnett Bank: “I was trying to avoid a high school friend who was encouraging me to do something else and I had no desire to do it. To get away from him, I walked into Barnett Bank and landed a job and that job grew into a career that I have just been in love with ever since.”
Downtown: “It’s the central point for the metropolitan area. It ought to be a place where we live and we can find entertainment and we can feel safe in the environment, enjoy the river, enjoy mingling with one another and we can boast about the great city where we live.”
Community involvement: “This is the place I grew up in and I love it, and I owe it to be involved at not just some levels but every level.”
OTHERS TALK ABOUT WARREN
John Baker II, Tiger Academy board member: “Cleve is the most dedicated person I know regarding closing the achievement gap in public education. By the grace of God he is also the most talented ambassador of the cause.”
Hugh H. Jones Jr., retired Barnett Bank of Jacksonville chair/CEO: “I knew he would do well. He just came in and wanted to work hard and got ahead working hard. … I always had a group of five or six that if I ever left the bank to start a new one, I would take them with me. He was one of them.”
Deborah Moore, Leadership Jacksonville board president: “Cleve embodies the true meaning and spirit of community trustee. His self-less, meaningful contributions to the youth in our community has a lasting impact on the participants and Jacksonville as a whole.”
Cynthia Bioteau, Florida State College at Jacksonville president: “Cleve Warren leads by blending a strong cultural sensitivity with savvy financial skills, providing a firm foundation for the open access mission of our college.”
Barbara Darby, Profectus Learning Systems secretary: “He has used his talents and the wide network of business and personal partners to benefit the most needy in this community with no desire for personal gain or acclaim. Cleve is someone who gets the job done.”
First Coast Success: Cleve Warren
The Daily Record interviewed Warren for “First Coast Success,” a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross. These are edited excerpts from the interview.
The interview is scheduled for broadcast this morning and will replay at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or at wjctondemand.org.