The Road From D.C. to Davie
Sid Spiro on the global journey that led to opening Regent Bank
by Lina Lincoff, Reporter, South Florida Business Journal
Cyril “Sid” Spiro has been around the world many times over, bouncing from Switzerland to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Singapore while working for mega banks such as Citigroup and Bank of America. But he settled on South Florida as the home for his own institution, Regent Bank. Spiro began the Davie-based bank in 1984 and took two years to officially open. The doors of the institution have been welcoming customers ever since.
Historic bonds from financial institutions worldwide hang on the walls of the Davie branch. For Spiro, the bonds are more than just decoration for the bank; they mirror his well-traveled lifestyle and world-rich history.
Historic bonds are a fitting interior decorating decision. Where did they come from? When I worked in Brickell, there was a woman on Miami Avenue who sold bonds around the corner. At 15 or 20 bucks apiece, the cost to frame them was a heck of a lot more. The bonds have gained value since, but what’s interesting is that when we started Regent Bank, I called the people down at Bank of America in Brickell and said: “Remember those old bonds?” I couldn’t have them. In the meantime, that lady had gone out of business. I found an outfit in New Hampshire that sends them down here on consignment. We pick them for color, quality and clarity. Some of these old ones are absolutely gorgeous.
Where did you grow up? Washington, D.C., in Georgetown. My father was an economist for the World Bank, and my mother was senior editor at the Library of Congress.
What was D.C. like then? In those days, it wasn’t the Metro, it was streetcars. …It’s a great city. I left D.C. originally in 1960 and went off to college at Tufts University in the School of Engineering. I flunked out royally; had a very good time. My father came up and asked – now I was done wasting X-thousands of dollars – what was I going to do next? I went to work for a construction company in Washington.
Why did you choose engineering? I should have never gone to engineering school. I went to my high school science teacher and he asked me where I had gone and I said: “the Tufts School of Engineering.” He told me I was the farthest thing from an engineer he had ever met. But they said they’d take me back. I ended up going to the military for three years, and when I came back, I went to the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. When I was out, I worked in the Peace Corps staff. I was the one writing all the rejection letters. It was very fascinating.
How did you get from foreign service to banking? Out of the School of Foreign Service, there were maybe seven or so students that went to the State Department. Less than 10 percent of the 400-odd class. Most went to work for other governmental organizations or international corporations. I went to work for Citicorp in Geneva, because I had a Swiss passport. My wife and I still go every year. I worked for Citi for a couple years, and then ended up setting up a joint-venture factoring company, a Swiss shipping company. That’s what taught me that I really needed to go back [to school] and get more theory. I ended up going to Wharton, in part because I could go straight through in 14 months.
Had you been to Philadelphia before? Never. We always went up the New Jersey Turnpike and never got off in Philadelphia. After Wharton, I went to Bank of America in San Francisco and was in charge of ship financing. It was a fun time because the bank wasn’t big in ship financing, but it was the biggest bank in the world. We could, in essence, get a ship owner’s entire financial picture. We got involved with a lot of interesting projects, one of which was liquefied natural gas carriers backed by the Malaysian government.
How did you get to Miami? I flew in to go visit our adjunct bank here. Previously, the subsidiary was reporting to Caracas, and now it was reporting to North America. I had the sole right to hire and fire people, and that’s the key to success: the people that do the job. I had a girlfriend at the time, and we drove across the country from Los Angeles. We took a month – went rafting in the Colorado River – and we were driving down Calle Ocho. We went down for breakfast at our hotel and nobody spoke any English. And we didn’t speak any Spanish. That was our introduction to Miami.
Why did you decide to open your own bank? I knew it was the time. I set up shop down here in South Florida. It’s been great.
Cyril “Sid” Spiro
Residence: Fort Lauderdale
Current position: Chairman and CEO, Regent Bank
Current boards: Broward Workshop, Wharton Alumni Association
Past positions: CFO, Jim Pattison Group; VP and head of South East region, Bank of America
Past boards: Boards of directors of the Plantation Chamber of Commerce, Davie/Cooper City Chamber of Commerce, Florida Bankers’ Association, Rumbaugh-Goodwin Institute for Cancer Research, Broward Housing Partnership
Education: B.S. in foreign service, Georgetown University; M.B.A., The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania