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- 2012 - September - 10th -

First Coast Success: Robert Clements, EverBank Financial Corp.

by Karen Brune Mathis, Managing Editor

Robert Clements is the chairman and CEO of EverBank Financial Corp. and has led it and its predecessor companies since 1997.

Clements joined the EverBank family of companies in 1994. Since then, he has taken the company public Ė in more ways than one.

In addition to leading the company through its initial public stock offering, he also negotiated to label Jacksonville Municipal Stadium as EverBank Field and to anchor another Downtown building as EverBank Center, moving more than 1,800 employees into that tower.

Thatís in addition to its headquarters presence along Riverside Avenue near Downtown.

EverBank has about 3,000 employees, with more than 2,100 in Jacksonville, Clements said.

Clements, 49, also will be more visible personally now that he is a mayoral appointee to the newly created Downtown Investment Authority.

Before joining EverBank, he was a vice president at Merrill Lynch & Co., where he was a member of the firm's leveraged buyout group, Merrill Lynch Capital Partners.

He earned his bachelorís degree in economics from Dartmouth College and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

As of June 30, EverBank's deposits were at $10.8 billion and total assets were $15 billion.

The Daily Record interviewed Clements for ďFirst Coast Success,Ē a regular segment on the award-winning 89.9 FM flagship First Coast Connect program, hosted by Melissa Ross.

The interview is scheduled for broadcast this morning and the replay will be at 8 p.m. on the WJCT Arts Channel or online at www.wjctondemand.org.

The following are edited excerpts from the full transcript.

EverBank is a well-known name in Jacksonville, but youíre going to become more well-known in person as you join the Downtown Investment Authority. Why are you interested in serving on the authority?

When the mayor asks you to roll up your sleeves and help out, itís hard to say no, but as someone who really feels very fortunate to have had the opportunity to raise a family here in Jacksonville and build a company here in Jacksonville, I feel a real commitment to doing what I can to help continue to contribute to the growth and success of the city and see Downtown Jacksonville continue to grow and thrive.

What are your predictions for Downtown?

I feel great about the positive developments and the commitment that I have observed among the business community and the mayorís office to really put Downtown on a long sustainable path of growth and vitality.

Youíve brought more than 1,800 employees Downtown to EverBank Center. Where do you see the opportunities for Downtown development that may not have been accomplished in the past?

I havenít been studying it from a global perspective. We were focused on the opportunity for EverBank to move Downtown in a way that we thought was a win-win. It was a win for Downtown but also it was really a very attractive space for our company and for our employees. The move could not have gone any better and the reaction of the employees has been very positive. They really seemed to have embraced being Downtown and enjoy the environment.

My view is it would be great for other companies that are considering it to learn more about the experience weíve had, come see our space and I think theyíll be really pleasantly surprised at what Downtown has to offer.

Do you see more companies moving headquarters Downtown from the suburbs or from outside the city?

I certainly hope so and I donít see any reason why it shouldnít happen. It was no small feat to move 1,800 employees from a suburban campus where we had had a very positive experience for many years.

We had outgrown the space, which required us to step back and take a fresh look at what would make the most sense for the company. Our experience really exceeded expectations.

Tell us about yourself. What is your background? Is this the career you envisioned as a child?

I had no idea where I would end up. Iím a native of New Orleans and I did have a desire after living in the Northeast for about 13 years to get back to this part of the country. I didnít know anything about Jacksonville until I ended up marrying a native of Jacksonville. We met in New York.

From the first time I came to visit the city, the light went off that if the right career opportunity came along, this would be a great place to live and raise a family.

How did that career opportunity come along?

Coincidentally, I was in the private equity business when I was in New York and had actually performed due diligence on the predecessor company, Alliance Mortgage Company. That was probably 1993. We ended up investing in another mortgage company at the time, but then I was at a point where I had two kids in New York and I was thinking itís time to consider a move and it came to my attention that the company was on the market. Some long-term pillars of the Jacksonville community put a group together to buy the company at that time and it just felt right from the beginning that this was, on all levels, the right decision for me to make.

Talk about EverBank. It provides banking, mortgages and investment services nationwide. It operates through the standard banking offices as well as through its direct banking division and telephone, mail and the Internet. Its roots date back to 1961 and the current company was formed in 1994 as Alliance Mortgage Company.

EverBank has evolved significantly over the past 18 years that I have been involved. We are a nationwide banking franchise. We have very attractive asset generation capabilities in residential lending, commercial lending, commercial equipment leasing and warehouse financing. We have this very robust deposit generation engine through our online banking operation in addition to the attractive branch network we have here in Florida.

Today we find ourselves in a position where we are experiencing tremendous organic growth among all of our core channels and we have this low-cost deposit engine that supports that asset growth and we are very excited about the customer concentration that weíve achieved nationwide in some very attractive MSAs (metropolitan statistical areas) without making a big investment in a physical presence.

Going forward we see tremendous opportunity to integrate our product offering and deepen our customer relationships in these attractive MSAs.

We do have a high-quality customer base. Itís an affluent sophisticated customer base and we see an opportunity to really penetrate that customer base even further.

How much larger do you see the company becoming?

Thatís hard to say. We feel very good about the current momentum weíre experiencing in all of our core channels. We had success over the years consummating some very strategic acquisitions that have fueled our growth.

Right now we are more focused on organic growth and integrating our recent acquisitions and supporting our existing channels. We are experiencing very strong momentum and we feel very good about our growth prospects.

Will we see more EverBank branch offices?

That is not a major focus right now. Weíre happy with the branch infrastructure we have in Florida. We are opening lending offices throughout the country. Weíre investing heavily and expanding our retail residential lending business.

But we could see in the future potentially having a physical branch presence in some of these attractive MSAs where we currently have strong customer concentration.

So how much input did you have in the ďitís rainingĒ commercial?

That was my brainchild. No, Iím kidding. Very little, other than laughing very hard the first time I saw it. We work with a very high-quality advertising marketing firm in Baltimore and we thought the ad, from the beginning, just really hit the mark.

What was your first reaction when you saw it? Itís hilarious.

I had the same reaction. I actually never got tired of it even though we have run it quite a lot. It won a regional award and I think itís up for a national award. We are really pleased with how that turned out.

What has changed about your job since the company has gone public?

When I reflect on those early years, we were a much smaller company, less than 200 employees.

That was an exciting time. It was certainly easier to know everyone on a first-name basis and we got off to a very good start.

In the later years we started to diversify and entered into some joint diversified relationships and started consummating some of these important strategic acquisitions.

Our management team has grown over the years but in many ways we have always had a very collaborative management group.

Iím so fortunate to be surrounded by the best management team in the industry. We really have a lot of mutual respect. We work well together and in that respect, things havenít really changed. Weíve expanded our executive management team over the years.

Of particular significance, we all share a long-term focus, which has really served us well in terms of avoiding many of the landmines that exist in our industry.

What we witnessed were a lot of companies that maybe got caught up following the herds, saw some short-term profit opportunities but those were not sustainable business lines to be in.

We really pride ourselves in the fact that we are here for the long term. We maybe missed out on some interesting opportunities but we think it is more important to avoid those opportunities that could end up hurting you.

Those opportunities in Florida specifically were the real estate opportunities of the time.

Absolutely. We benefit from having geographic diversity. If all of our lending activities were in Florida, that would have put more strain on our company, but we were very careful and cautious during the bubble because we really questioned the sustainability of the market environment and the credit decisions that were being made by a lot of our peers, so when the market did correct we were fortunately in a position of great strength and were able to remain on offense during the market correction.

What went into your decision to put the EverBank name on Jacksonville Municipal Stadium? Youíre in the second year of the five-year, $16.6 million deal. Is it worth it?

Itís hard to measure, but my gut tells me it was a great decision for the company. It was a unique opportunity for us, having a strong local presence but also having nationwide lending and banking and investing activities. The NFL brand is such a powerful brand, so being associated with the NFL is really positive and the instant impact it had on our visibility in Jacksonville was tremendous. Itís been a lot of fun as well.

Itís something we had studied for a couple of years and by the time we had made the decision, our company had grown to a size and again, with both our strong presence in Jacksonville and our nationwide activities, it just made a lot of sense.

Youíve been associated with the only two owners that the Jacksonville Jaguars have had in their history ó Wayne and Delores Weaver and now Shad Khan. Can you comment on that?

Itís been a real pleasure over many years now getting to know the Weavers and Jacksonvilleís so fortunate to have the Weavers here. They were the best owners in the NFL and candidly I was stunned when Wayne called me to tell me his decision to sell the team. The Weavers and Jacksonville seemed inseparable and yet I canít imagine a better owner than Shad Khan and itís been a real thrill to get to know him.

His energy, his intellect ó itís just infectious. Itís clear heís going to be a tremendous ambassador, not only for the Jaguars but also for Jacksonville.

Itís amazing how fortunate we are that we had the Weavers for so long and theyíre here and they continue to do great things for Jacksonville, but I couldnít be more excited about the impact that Shad Khan is going to have on our city as well.

Do you attend all of the games and will you be traveling to London for the Jaguars games that will be played there?

I canít make all the games, but I certainly try and I get to most of them. London sounds exciting, so sign me up for that. I would love to have an excuse to spend a couple of days over there and I think that was a great announcement for Jacksonville and I compliment Shad and the NFL on making that happen.

What do you predict for the season?

Thereís a strong view that our team is better this year than it was last year. A lot of things are hard to control, but there is no doubt that the quality of the team that we are going to see on the field this year is going to be very strong.

What is your other involvement in the city and the state and what is your involvement with the JAX Chamber?

With the demands of my job, sometimes I donít have the chance to step back and see some of the other things that are going on around me and where I might be able to contribute to the community, so being on the chamber (board of directors) has given me exposure to some of the key challenges we have in Jacksonville and some of the interesting opportunities that we have in Jacksonville.

I was flattered to be asked to be on the Downtown Investment Authority and look forward to serving in that capacity.

Iíve spent a lot of time focused on the schools where my children attend. I do serve on the board of Episcopal School of Jacksonville as chairman of that board and thatís something Iíve really enjoyed, but look forward to doing more in the community going forward.

Itís been six months since the head of school at Episcopal, Dale Regan, was killed. How is the school?

The school is doing amazingly well. There were moments of incredible inspiration during one of the most difficult times that Iíve ever experienced. The way the community came together and the strength of the faculty and staff was just remarkable.

We are very fortunate Charley Zimmer, who ran the school for many years and who was just beloved by the Episcopal community, was willing to come back and help stabilize the school during this very tough environment.

We are all still in a state of shock and Daleís impact on the school will be felt forever. We will continue to honor her.

Itís such a wonderful institution and all things considered, the school is off to a great new school year and everyone seems to be excited about what this year will bring.

You and your wife are raising four children in Jacksonville, so you have a lot of experience with the school system.

Thatís correct and again, thatís another one of the many reasons I feel so fortunate to live in Jacksonville Ö the wonderful experience our kids have had going to school here in Jacksonville.

How do you see the city for the next generation?

Iíd like to believe that when our kids are trying to decide where they want to settle down that Jacksonville is going to be top of the list. The city has so much potential and I think more and more people see that there are opportunities to take Jacksonville to another level.

I am very bullish on Jacksonville, and it certainly exceeded my expectations.

Where do you see the economy now?

Itís certainly stabilized. Itís less fragile than I would have said it was just a few months ago. Everyone would like to see the economy come back stronger and to see growth improve and unemployment come down further, but you know, fortunately we survived the storm and stabilized.

What else would you like to share?

I step back and really think about the EverBank story and itís a great Jacksonville story.

Our key shareholders are long-term pillars of the Jacksonville community. We have benefited greatly from building a company here in Jacksonville. Itís a high-quality workforce. I think we have the best employees in the business, no question, and we have a great infrastructure.

Jacksonville has the advantage in our abilities to not only attract but retain top quality talent at EverBank. And I can tell you I have a management team that not only is deeply committed to the company but also deeply committed to this community and shares the appreciation I have for how fortunate we are to live and work in Jacksonville.

The chamber and the City try to recruit corporate headquarters from other locations, but EverBank is proof that home-grown companies can be more important to an area. Can you reflect on that?

We were very optimistic when we started that we could build something really special.

Jacksonville has had cycles. When I first moved here, it had some very strong significant financial institutions headquartered here and then there was a wave of acquisitions, but you see other companies, very dynamic companies, that are prospering here in Jacksonville.

Web.com is a company that I admire. Acosta (Sales & Marketing). I could name many and all these companies benefit from the same things we benefit from ó a high-quality workforce, attractive infrastructure and a great quality of life that helps us attract key talent.

Is there any advice you would give to a small business owner or entrepreneur about growing his or her business?

Working hard and leading by example. Donít be shy about surrounding yourself by the top talent that you can find.

Iím fortunate and weíve had a lot of things go our way over the years we have had a long-term focus that has served us well, so I think these are principles that apply to any company regardless of size.

What is your leadership style?

We have a very collaborative management team and management approach and I really value the strength of my management team. Weíve just got some remarkable partners and we really respect each other. We have a very strong culture that weíve built up over the years thatís based on trust and teamwork.

There are times where we had some individuals who didnít really embrace that culture and ultimately they did not survive at EverBank.

Treating people fairly, treating people well, working hard, working as a strong team player ó I donít take any of this for granted.

kmathis@baileypub.com

@MathisKb

356-2466

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