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BayFirst Bank announces new CEO, president

David Krakow



Thomas G. Zernick, left, is BayFirst Bank's new CEO. Robin L. Oliver is the bank's new president. Photo: David Krakow.

For Thomas G. Zernick and Robin L. Oliver of BayFirst Bank, 2024 has gotten off to a good start.

On Tuesday, it was announced by BayFirst Financial Corp – the parent company of St. Petersburg-based BayFirst Bank – that Zernick and Oliver had been promoted. Zernick, the former president, is now chief executive officer and Oliver, the former chief financial officer, has slid into Zernick’s former position. Oliver is also the company’s chief operating officer.

The two promotions were effective Jan. 1.

“Opportunities presented themselves to me and I had the opportunity to work very closely with Tony Leo, who was our previous CEO,” said Zernick from his second-floor office overlooking Central Avenue. The Board of Directors had previously announced that retiring CEO Leo would remain a director and part-time consultant for strategic matters.

Zernick had become a director and joined the board a year ago when he was named successor CEO. He had served as president of the company since February 2022, six years after he came on board. He has also served as president of BayFirst’s CreditBench, its small business lending division.

Zernick said that he hadn’t thought much beyond small business then. “I was really envisioning finishing my career as president of the best SBA division in the world,” he shared. “But there was a shift in some of our executive team and it provided an opportunity for me to get more involved with the executive committee of the bank.”

A native of Michigan, Zernick said he ended up on Florida’s gulf coast because of “the Michigan winters. The brown snow, the gray skies, the ice on the roads driving through Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin.”

During a flight, Zernick had his trigger moment. “We were flying back,” he said, smiling, “and the pilot said ‘I’m so sorry to tell you this, guys, but there are blizzard conditions in Detroit. If you’re parked in long term parking (at the airport) you’re in trouble.’ And I was.” His wife is a nurse, the kids were off to college and he was ready to make the move. Zernick now resides in St. Pete Beach.

Zernick is bullish on St. Pete for reasons that have nothing to do with the weather. “St. Pete has been a bright light for us,” he said. Remembering how undeveloped most of Central Ave. was when he started, he proclaimed proudly that “wow, we’re really pioneering here. And now you can go 40 blocks and it’s developed or being developed.” Citing among other things the Gas Plant redevelopment, The Deuces and the expansion of affordable housing in the city, Zernick concluded “I’m excited about the future of St. Pete. This is a great spot to be headquartered.”

Oliver has been chief operating officer since 2022 and has been part of the bank’s operational decision making and strategy team since starting with the company in 2018. A native of Lexington, Kentucky, she had been both the chief financial officer and COO up until this week’s promotion. “It took a little bit of time,” she said about the search for her successor as CFO. “And we did finally find him (Scott McKim) and we’re thrilled to have him on board.”

As for the joint titles, “I’m always just where the company needs me,” Oliver said. “I don’t know that I’ll ever have a specific end goal in mind. I just want to be providing value.”

BayFirst, with $1.1 billion in assets, has 11 banking centers and 300 employees in the region. A ribbon cutting for a 12th center in north Sarasota will take place next week.

Zernick and Oliver also touted BayFirst’s work in the community, from hosting social events at its downtown plaza to the 100 community engagement events Zernick said the company attended in December. “We are giving back to the customers that we serve and we make it a point to be socially responsible as a bank,” he said, adding that all the banking centers are carbon neutral.

“We’re very proud of giving back to the community because we need St. Pete to do well,” Oliver, a resident of Madeira Beach, added. “We need Carrollwood to do well. We need West Bradenton to do well.” Each employee, she noted, is given a day off each quarter for volunteering. The company, she added, is involved in providing resources and assistance to animal shelters and Habitat for Humanity.  

“I think for 2024, this will be a year of execution for us,” Zernick said. “We’ve done some remarkable things, grown the franchise from two branches when I started to now 12.” Stating that he wants to stay ahead of technology while remaining a community bank, Zernick said “I want to continue to be able to bring banking services to our customers on their terms.”



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