As a young banker building his career in the mid-1980s, Shaun Merriman had unique way to make a few extra bucks and decompress after work: he participated on the men’s water skiing team at SeaWorld in Orlando, working nights and weekends. “There was a six-month period where I don’t think I had a day off,” Merriman says.
Besides padding his wallet, the experience taught Merriman the value of hustle, work ethic, and, significantly, following your passion. So while water skiing was nice, Merriman soon gave it up to focus totally on banking. More than three decades later, Merriman is set to retire, with his last position being West Florida division president for SouthState Bank. Based in Sarasota, Merriman’s division encompasses 19 banking centers, $1.9 billion in deposits and $1.7 billion in loans.
In total, Merriman has been in banking for 37 years, with 22 years leading a bank or a division. He’s worked for regional bank powers, such as SouthTrust and CenterState/SouthState, and he founded a community bank, Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida. And he’s mentored dozens of young bankers — five of whom have gone on to run divisions or launch new banks. Also well-known in Sarasota-Manatee business and civic circles, Merriman has chaired multiple boards, including the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, the Van Wezel Performing Arts Foundation and Doctors Hospital of Sarasota.
‘I’m very fortunate I chose the right career for my personality. I love process. I love structure. I’m going to miss everything that goes with running a bank.’ Shaun Merriman
Citing several reasons, including his father dying in March 2021, Merriman says “this is the perfect time for me to call it.” His last day is scheduled for May 20. He turns 60 May 22 and the next day, a Monday, Merriman and his wife are planning to celebrate with a week vacation at The Breakers Palm Beach Resort.
Merriman recently sat down with the Business Observer to talk about banking, his career and what comes next. Edited excerpts:
• Early start: Merriman’s mom, Gloria, was a career banker and he knew from an early age that’s what he was going to do. A Chicago native, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a major in finance and a minor in accounting. It was an on-purpose decision to go there. “The University of Wisconsin system has a great push toward creating bankers right out of college,” he says. (He won the school’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015.)
• Fast learner: After four years in Florida, on the water and in the bank, Merriman got what he considered a plum post: working in commercial banking at M&I Bank in Wausau, Wisconsin. Less than two years later he had another strong opportunity, but the experience in credit analysis and relationship-driven banking at M&I, he says, was priceless. “It was only 18 months, but I got a master’s degree in community banking,” he says. “I wouldn’t be the banker I am today if I didn’t spend those 18 months in Wisconsin.”
• Smart thinking: Merriman had been a banker for 21 years in 2006 when he took his biggest-ever career leap: he launched his own bank, Gateway. While the timing, two years before a recession, in hindsight, was difficult, Merriman has no regrets. The best decision he made with the bank, he says, was to hire a chief credit officer instead of a senior loan officer, like most new banks do. With that difference, and Joy Turner, an experienced credit officer at the helm, Gateway prudently passed on $100 million in loans in the first 18 months. “She helped us avoid any major issues in our first few years,” Merriman says.
• Thought process: Just like for many others, the pandemic led Merriman to tweak, if not rethink, his life plan. Then, some 13 months ago, his dad, Dennis Merriman, died at 90 years old of complications related to heart disease. Soon before that, Dennis, who had run a family auto business in Chicago, said something that stopped Shaun cold. “My dad said, ‘you can only eat one steak a night.’ Message? Be sure to enjoy what you have before climbing the next mountain.
• Next up: Merriman (Poppy to his two grandkids) intends to spend time with his family in retirement. An avid cyclist, he will also get back on the bike for long rides, he says. The rest is a bit uncertain — which is certainly unusual for a type A banker like Merriman who readily admits that, besides his colleagues, the thing he will miss most about banking is…banking. “I’m very fortunate I chose the right career for my personality,” Merriman says. “I love process. I love structure. I’m going to miss everything that goes with running a bank.”