The day Roy Hellwege, formerly the central Florida president for Lake Michigan Credit Union, agreed to meet with us, he was completely at ease, lighthearted and seemingly content to chat as long as we wanted to. He had nowhere to be that day.
Undoubtedly, it was a change of pace from when he was the top local banking executive for LMCU.
His daughter had just graduated and he was gearing up to travel to Europe for vacation.
LMCU acquired St. Petersburg’s Pilot Bank in 2021 and since then, Hellwege knew he was nearing a time when he would move on from his time with the institution. In May of 2023, that time came.
Tampa Bay Business and Wealth talked with Hellwege about the transition, lessons he’s taking with him as he leaves LMCU, after 12 years, combined, with Pilot Bank and then LMCU, and what he plans to do next.
This is a big move for you after 12 years. Why did you think now was the right time to move on?
I took that over in 2010, when it was a troubled bank and we were blessed to put a great team together. The idea was always, at some point, to sell it. Out of the blue came Lake Michigan Credit Union. They had acquired a bank down south in the Naples area and wanted to come to Tampa.
When I met with the chief executive officer, Sandra Jelinski—she’s a really good lady, we got along—and she was asking, “What areas are you concerned about if you want to sell the bank?” And I said, “Well, of course, price is always first and foremost. I have a fiduciary [responsibility] with the shareholders. I have to take care of them. But I’m equally as concerned about my employees, my clients and the communities that we serve.” I felt like we have always done a lot, through Pilot, to give back and be an advocate for the community and its growth. We had a good meeting of the minds.
We agreed to a three-year contract and the main objective, I think, was to get through the transition period. And then we could determine if it was really a good fit. There are a lot of really good people over at LMCU, really great folks. Most of my team from Pilot is still working for them.
What began to become clear was that there wasn’t alignment with what I wanted to do, long term, and where they were heading. They were very gracious and they honored their three-year contract with me.
It sounds like it was an amicable departure and that you’re leaving on good terms.
I certainly feel like they’ve honored everything they agreed to, other than me, physically being there for the full three years. But I don’t think that was critical anymore. The bank is functioning, here, at a very solid level. They’ve got a good team. It was a win-win scenario. And it allows me to identify something a little bit earlier than I might have, in terms of where my next passion will be. I’m excited about that. I’m not sure exactly where that is yet.
That’s the obvious question. What’s next for you?
I’m trying to expand my horizons. I’m not saying it won’t be banking because there are actually some discussions, I’m having that are in the banking line of business. But it doesn’t have to be banking either.
I’m really focused on helping CEOs that are often in the early to mid-stage cycle of their business. Those that really need some understanding on how to scale and maybe need help in regard to how you do a capital structure, how your secure capital, mentorship and how you create a strategic plan. I find that exciting and fun.
What’s a lesson you can share with readers about how you led, built teams or workplace culture?
All of my best ideas come from somebody else. But the difference is a lot of people don’t go and execute, right? It’s one thing to throw out an idea. It’s a whole different thing to say, “That’s a great idea. And we’re going to execute it, but we’re not going to be everything to all people.”
A few people have said Tampa is unique and needs to stay unique to maintain its charm, or identity, if you will. Do you agree?
What I always tell people, and I sincerely believe, is this is the case right now, what I think is unique about Tampa is that if you are a good individual, moral, ethical, and determined, you treat your clients properly and you build a network with intent, Tampa’s open and we help each other.
We don’t block people from joining our community. We don’t try to keep people out. I think we’re diverse. And I think we attract people here. I love this community. It’s dynamic and the energy is just incredible. I would love to play a part in this next generation. To me, that’s the heart and soul of Tampa.
What haven’t I asked you that I should have?
The most important thing to me is my family. So, I’m really blessed. I have five children and two grandkids. They’re the light of my life. I want to stay active in Tampa. I’ve got a lot of friends here and I am joining a board of business. I can’t share that yet. But I’ll tell you that I don’t want to go on too many boards, two or three would be nice. And then, if there’s a great fit with a business I’d love to do that again, too.