Who's the best banking CEO in the business? While the answer to that question might be largely a matter of opinion, there are definite standouts in the sector -- three of whom receive an enthusiastic "thumbs-up" from these Motley Fool financial contributors.
Amanda Alix: Bank of America's (NYSE:BAC) Brian Moynihan is a leader who wasn't afraid to take the reins of a bloated behemoth in 2010 during one of the darkest times in banking history. Though he hasn't yet restored BofA to its former glory, Moynihan has worked tirelessly to wind down the legacy issues that have dogged the big bank over the past few years, namely problems in its mortgage segment and a pressing need for expense reduction.
The bank just reported quarterly earnings of $168 million, or a loss of $0.01 per share when considering preferred dividend payouts. That might not be great, but it's better than the $0.09 per share loss the Street had predicted. With the last of the big mortgage-related settlements in the rear-view mirror, analysts predict earnings will be free to rise, unfettered by legal expenses.
In addition, Moynihan's "Project New BAC" cost-cutting initiative has trimmed the bank's excessive girth by more than $60 billion, and has already reached its goal of saving $2 billion per quarter -- one quarter earlier than expected.
Recently, Moynihan has taken even firmer control of Bank of America by succeeding outgoing board of directors chairman Charles Holliday Jr. -- a sign, hopefully, that the dynamic CEO plans to stick around for a while longer.
Jordan Wathen: George Gleason is my favorite bank CEO. In 1979, at age 25, he bought a controlling interest in Bank of the Ozarks (NASDAQ:OZRK), and he has managed it with a lead foot on the growth pedal ever since.
What makes Gleason stand out is his ability to grow Bank of the Ozarks by acquisition. During the financial crisis, Bank of the Ozarks swallowed up several failed banks from the FDIC. It's a familiar strategy for Gleason, and a profitable one. When banks fail, the FDIC essentially hands them out for free to larger, better-run rivals. Bank of the Ozarks always seems to be first in line to swallow its failed competitors.
But Bank of the Ozarks doesn't have to shop from "scratch and dent" banks. Investors have graced the company with such a sky-high valuation to make almost any acquisition justifiable.
Even though the well of FDIC-assisted bank sales has run dry, Bank of the Ozarks is still in acquisition mode. But it isn't paying high prices. In 2014, it acquired two banks for 1.1 and 1.6 times tangible book value, with the majority paid for in Bank of the Ozarks stock. At the time, its shares were trading at prices more than two times higher than the banks it acquired, making the deals accretive to book value and earnings.
In an industry in which so many companies overpay for acquisitions, Gleason's record stands out as one of the best.
Since being named CEO nearly 10 years ago, Dimon has steered JPMorgan through one of the most tumultuous decades in history for financial institutions, delivering a total return of 80% to shareholders, which narrowly trailed the S&P 500.
On the other hand, the three men atop Citigroup (NYSE:C) during that time -- Charles Prince, Vikram Pandit, and Michael Corbat -- saw that bank's value drop by nearly 90%.
Of course, the results of financial institutions with trillions of dollars on their balance sheets cannot be attributed to one person, but such dramatic differences reveal just how impressive Dimon's record is.
Don't just take my word for it. Warren Buffett, last fall after the announcement of JPMorgan's $13 billion settlement with the government, said that "this country is a lot better off because Jamie Dimon has been running JPMorgan."
When many questioned the pay Dimon received in January of this year following a difficult 2013, Buffett again wasn't shy. He told The Wall Street Journal that Dimon was "a bargain," adding, "If I owned J.P. Morgan Chase, he would be running it and he would be making more money than the directors are paying him ... if Jamie decides he wants to make more money, all he has to do is call me and I'd hire him at Berkshire."
JPMorgan employees are also positive on Dimon, whose approval rating on the popular employee website Glassdoor stands at 84%, above the 79% for John Stumpf at Wells Fargo, 75% for BofA's Moynihan, and 73% for Citigroup's Corbat.
Given all of that, selecting Dimon as one of the best CEOs in banking is an easy choice.
Amanda Alix has no position in any stocks mentioned. Jordan Wathen has no position in any stocks mentioned. Patrick Morris owns shares of Bank of America. The Motley Fool recommends Bank of America. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, and JPMorgan Chase. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.