Let My People Go Surfing
Mr. LaRoe planned to retire after selling Florida Choice Bank in 2006.
He set out with his wife on a lengthy, soul-searching journey across the U.S. in a mini motor home. Along the way he began reading a book his brother had given him: “Let My People Go Surfing,” by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, the highly successful outdoor clothing and equipment company. Chouinard’s philosophical approach to business greatly influenced Mr. LaRoe. He became convinced that business can be holistic: in addition to making a profit, business can have a positive impact on society. Chouinard developed a business model which integrated his principles and professional acumen, and he was able to experience enduring success without the degree of ethical compromise that often counters the contributions business leadership is capable of making to our environment and culture.
" Business can be holistic: In addition to making a profit, business can have a positive impact on society "
When Ken returned from his cross-country journey, he decided to put his newfound philosophy to work. Ken has been a committed environmentalist all of his life. He strongly believes that efficient, wise use of our resources — conservation — is a fundamental virtue and an economic necessity, and he also believes that his environmental principles mesh perfectly with his conservative business principles. He returned to Eustis with a new passion: To put his principles to the test in the banking business. He began talking with some of his colleagues and friends and they all got very excited. They wanted to create a business that would be both profitable and focus on doing the right thing, believing that those two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive.
First Green Bank
A local bank with a global mission
In 2009, after being granted the last bank charter in the state of Florida Mr.LaRoe opened First Green Bank.
With a team of very experienced and successful local bankers who had been with him throughout much of his career. All were eager to be part of this “local bank with a global mission” which endeavors to do the right thing for: the environment; its people; its community; and its shareholders. All were eager to be part of this “local bank with a global mission” which endeavors to do the right thing for: the environment; its people; its community; and its shareholders.
As the largest shareholder, Chairman and CEO of First Green Bank, Mr. LaRoe hopes to help turn Central Florida ‘green’ one customer at a time. First Green Bank is the first bank in the eastern United States with an environmental and social mission. In May of 2012, First Green Bank also became the first financial institution in the eastern United States to be granted membership in the Global Alliance for Banking on Values (GABV). The GABV is made up of the world’s leading sustainable banks, from Asia, Africa, Australia and Latin America, to North America and Europe. All of the members comply with sustainable banking principles and have a shared commitment to find global solutions to international problems, and to promote a positive, viable alternative to the current financial system. With a values-based business model dedicated to the “triple bottom line” of “people, planet, and prosperity,” First Green Bank has been notably successful in showing Central Florida residents that there is a way to do business which is financially, environmentally and socially responsible.
First Green Bank has been notably successful in showing Central Florida residents that there is a way to do business which is financially, environmentally and socially responsible.
The bank attained profitability in a remarkably short period of time (19 months), and has continued to be profitable even in a difficult global and economic climate. Additionally, First Green Bank is also the only bank in Lake County, and one of a select few banks in all of Florida, to receive the coveted 5-star BauerFinancial rating from the nation’s leading independent financial institution rating service – and First Green Bank has maintained the 5-star rating for ten consecutive quarters (two-and-a-half years). With current assets just under $300 million as of August 2014, First Green Bank has loaned in excess of $239 million to local businesses and community members.
Sustainable Banking Opportunities
Mr. LaRoe is dedicated to not only providing sustainable banking opportunities to Central Florida residents through First Green Bank, but also to creating jobs for those interested in a career that adheres to their values of environmental and social awareness.
With each expansion the new branch is able to add several jobs to the Florida market and hire employees that will make an impact on their community and embody the bank’s values proposition. He knows that as important as it is to expand branches and bring in new customers to educate about the importance of eco-friendly practices, it is also equally important to create careers and stimulate Central Florida’s economy through community- and environmentally-friendly businesses.
Central Florida is now home to four First Green Bank offices, with plans to continue expanding to a new location each year, including a fifth office coming to Winter Park in early 2014. In 2011, a new headquarters office was built in Mount Dora to exceed the LEED Platinum standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council for energy efficiency, environmental sensitivity and the safety, security and comfort of its customers, workers and the community. In fact, it is one of the most environmentally-sustainable and energy-efficient bank buildings in the southeastern United States, and it is only the seventh privately-owned commercial building in the state of Florida to achieve LEED Platinum certification. Consistent with the bank’s mission, all branches are either built or retrofitted with as many green features as possible.
To further its sustainability goals, Mr. LaRoe has led First Green Bank in becoming a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce and the Sierra Club.
Mr. LaRoe was also a founding board member and currently serves on the board of the First Green Foundation, a 501c-3 non-profit committed to sustainable energy, water conservation and community supported agriculture. First Green Foundation currently provides grants to community residents and businesses for installation of solar panel systems as part of its goal to help Central Floridians utilize as much sustainable energy as possible.