Honoring Women Who Are Leading The Way in Central Florida
Sandy Hostetter distinctly remembers following her father around the golf course when she was a young girl and mentioning how she was going to be a nurse. Then her father stopped, reached down and took her face in his hands and asked, “Why be a nurse? You should be a doctor.” She pressed him on this. “But daddy, girls aren’t doctors.” Then he replied, “There isn’t anything you can’t accomplish.” It is a message that she still remembers with emotion today.
“When you hear a statement like that, and my father said it frequently, it becomes part of who you are and how you approach life. That nothing is impossible. I hope I am a similar voice of encouragement to other women; that there are no limits,” she said.
To many who know her, she is that voice and more. Now the First Senior Vice President and Central Florida Regional President of Valley National Bank, Hostetter has been active in the Central Florida financial industry since leaving college to take a position with Barnett Bank. Through the years, she witnessed and often contributed to the success of the region’s transition to an economic nexus and cultural center.
“Since so few of us are [originally] from Orlando, this area has a unique way of welcoming newcomers that sets it apart from other metropolitan areas. It also has a rich legacy of women leaders who, from the moment I came to Orlando, were a source of inspiration to me,” she said. Women such as Linda Chapin, the first chairperson of the Orange County Commission, and Glenda Hood, the first female mayor of Orlando, among others.
Though she finds inspiration all around her, she readily admits, “I still go to high level banking meetings and I am the only woman in the room.”
Beyond Adapting To Embracing
Hostetter went into banking because it was the only viable opportunity when she finished her academic career at the University of Florida. Economically it was a difficult time with interest rates at historic highs, but there was a silver lining in that cloud. “For the first time, the regulations changed allowing banks to offer money market accounts. Overnight the job changed, it literally turned on a dime. No longer were bankers parked at their desks 8 to 5 waiting for customers to come in and make deposits. We were told, ‘We don’t make money off deposits, we pay interest on deposits, we make money on loans. You need to get this money out the door.’
“For me that was exciting, I liked marketing. For many it was a shift they couldn’t make. The entire corporate banking group for Barnett (which at the time was one of the largest banks in Florida), turned over in less than two years. Everyone.”
“That experience was a great lesson to me, not just in adapting to change, but embracing it. That change is probably why I am in banking today; I loved it. I don’t know if I am such a great salesperson, but I am a people person; I love people, I’m a relationship builder. The fact of the matter is people bank with people, it isn’t the institution; it is the people that make up the institution that have the impact. That really connected with me, how our brand becomes the people we hire.”
Barnett was sold to Nations Bank and some of Hostetter’s fellow bankers became a part of a regional consortium that focused on affordable housing, made up of some 18 banks controlling 95% of the area’s deposits. They reached out to her to see if she would come to work for them to head up the lending program. “When the Florida Community Partners executive director approached me about working for them, I said, ‘No, I grew up in St. Petersburg, I know what affordable housing is. They are properties owned by rich people that are used to take advantage of the poor.’ She assured me my perception of what they were doing couldn’t be further from the truth,” Hostetter recalled.
“I learned resilience. To take life one day at a time and to not give up.”
Rising to the Challenge
That opportunity led to the next phase of her career, as she made the dream of clean, safe, desirable and affordable housing available to people across the region. “This was a program the federal government started to encourage developers to make high quality housing available to lower income families. These were apartment complexes I would be proud to live in, they were beautifully made, wonderfully maintained and you would never know it was ‘affordable housing,’ if you drove by it,” she said beaming. “Most of the residents in these communities are working mothers and I’m a working mother, so I understand that challenge.”
This new direction was by her own admission, “Very complicated high finance, but I liked the challenge and the art of the deal. I actually called my husband my first week and said, ‘I’m way over my head, I’m drinking from a fire hydrant,’ but he assured me I would make it.”
“It was banking with a mission, I was so passionate about it and spent almost ten years there, seven as CEO. Then, when I was approached about starting a new bank I said ‘No way,’ but I did offer to use my connections with all the banks in the area to help them.”
“Now here is a funny story,” she continued. “I was trying to help this new bank, which became CNL Bank and people would ask me, ‘Why aren’t you doing it?’ And I would explain what I was doing, but my son overheard me talking to my husband about it a lot. How they had a vision of building a Barnett-type, Florida-based bank. So, he asked me,
‘Mom, if you aren’t accepting this job, why do you keep talking about it?’ He is very bright and I said, ‘This is a bank startup son, there are a lot of risks.’ I was doing large apartment complexes and told him, ‘This bank couldn’t finance the club house of one of our projects.’
“I will never forget what he replied,” Hostetter recalled. “He waited a few minutes and said, “Mom, so this whole thing you have been telling me, ‘No risk, no reward, that you have to take chances,’ that’s just for me, huh?’ I literally called them the next morning and said, ‘I’m your girl, let’s go for it.”
Making It to the Valley
CNL Bank was a bold, but achievable, dream with a pro-real estate approach. What no one foresaw, inside or outside of the industry, was the coming of the worst banking crisis since the Great Depression. Hostetter and her associates followed the Barnett model in many ways, taking the best and changing the weaker points, with the expectation they could grow into the largest Florida-based bank.
It is a period Hostetter looks back on like a veteran who has returned from war: glad to have been victorious, in this case they survived and had a successful exit, but with her own type of Purple Heart. “I learned resilience. To take life one day at a time and to not give up. It wasn’t just the stress of getting the bank through, because I knew people didn’t just invest in CNL Bank, they invested in me. That was a strain. We are our customer’s advocates and partners; to see them lose the businesses they started from scratch was heart-wrenching. The other important lesson I learned, that can’t be overstated, was that who you go into business with is everything. Jim Seneff, the board and investors in the bank were remarkable.”
Hostetter was not only able to keep the bank afloat, but also to execute a profitable exit through a sale to Valley National Bank in 2015, which she is equally exuberant about.
“Those were probably the best days and the worst days of my life,” she concluded. “Personally, at its very core, I’m so glad I took a chance. I’m a banker, so I’m naturally cautious, but to take a chance and start a bank, it’s a risk, but I’m so glad I did it.”
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