In 1986, I got a job as a lifeguard at Lee County Parks and Recreation. I worked at Lakes Park and Fort Myers Beach during summers in high school and in college. I was a good swimmer, and I wanted something outside, as opposed to working in a mall. Lifeguarding was a great way to be around the water and get paid for it, to have some responsibility and have some spending money. More than anything, lifeguarding taught me early on to be accountable and respon- sible. If it was a crowded holiday weekend, you’re the one in charge of making sure people are safe in the water. It taught me responsibility—being there when said I was going to be there, being held accountable for what I was supposed to do. It taught me how to handle the responsibility of doing my job and being responsible for a crew. We had a couple of instances where I pulled someone out of the water. One was an asthma attack. She’d gone under and we were able to pull her out of the water and resuscitate her. There were a lot of instances where parents lost track of their kids.
A toddler goes into the water and wades out—and you’re seeing it happen. As you jump off the stand and run to the water, they’re already falling in. I never planned to be a lifeguard forever. My degree is a bachelor’s in fine arts from the University of Central Florida. My intention was to be an artist and teach, and when I graduated college, I wanted to move back to Fort Myers. My mom said, “There’s an opening for a bank. I know the regional president. Do you want to interview with him?” I ended up working for John Fritts at First Union National Bank for 15 years and I’ve been in banking ever since. My philosophy in business is building a good team with the right people. Certainly, you can’t afford to have non-team players in a team of any kind, especially when working as a lifeguard. You can’t have anyone that’s not dependable. It’s hard to be down a person when you’ve got hundreds of people to watch over on the beach. That helped me understand the importance of hiring the right people and making sure they are motivated and happy with their career.
—As told to Renee Corwine