Buzz Ritchie Brings Passion to Everything He Does


Banking on SuccessWhether at Work or in the Community, Buzz Ritchie Brings Passion to Everything He DoesBy Linda Kleindienst

Buzz Ritchie began honing his business skills at a young age, grabbing a shovel and knocking on doors in his New York neighborhood as soon as the snow started to fall. Even to earn 20 cents, it was worth the effort.

“I liked to make money,” jokes the 61-year-old president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Bank in Pensacola.

Working in earnest started in fourth grade, after his family moved to Naples, Fla., and his father bought a small grocery store. While friends were having fun, Saturdays found Ritchie bagging groceries, sweeping floors and restocking shelves.

“If all you’re focused on is how quickly you can get to be a vice president, at some point that comes back to haunt you. I started out learning how to take care of people,” he says.

Most banks operate the same hours and offer similar rates. What makes them different, Ritchie explains to employees, is the individual bank’s attitude and its willingness to take care of customers, listen to their needs and give them what they want.

He also preaches involvement in the community where you do business. Ritchie is chairing the United Way fundraising campaign for the second year and has been involved in a host of other charitable efforts and cultural organizations, even serving as president of the Pensacola Opera and the Pensacola Little Theater.

“A typical Saturday morning has him getting up for his morning run, then going to build a Habitat house, then going to an environmental clean-up,” says wife Debbie. “He doesn’t take a lot of time for personal hobbies. He does enjoy reading historical books or biography. But, truly, community service is his hobby. He often jokes with me that at least he’s not on the golf course.”

Kathy Anthony, a partner O’Sullivan Creel RLP, a public accounting and consulting firm, has known Ritchie since the mid-1980s, when they were both involved in banking. Anthony says she remains impressed by Ritchie’s personal commitment to everything he does.

“He definitely is a leader,” she says. “His best trait is that he is also a doer. A lot of people are good are leading, but when it’s time to lay sod for a Habitat for Humanity house, they’re not out there. Buzz is.”

Ritchie, 61, earned an accounting degree and then a law degree from the University of Florida. He enjoyed the law school education but decided business was his first love, taking a job with a mortgage company and then starting a mortgage and banking firm with friends. He eventually became president of Pensacola Loan and Savings.

In 1988, after his bank was sold and he was in a “career shift,” he decided to dabble in politics when he learned Ginger Bass was vacating her House seat. Ritchie immediately became a force within the Democratic-ruled chamber and won support from colleagues to become House speaker in 1996. But Florida’s political landscape was quickly changing, and Republicans won a majority of the House that year. Instead of standing at the speaker’s podium, Ritchie was relegated to a back-row seat as House minority leader. He left the Legislature in 1998.

“From my perspective, it got more and more about politics and less and less about policy. There was less willingness for people to sit down and problem-solve,” he remembers. While there was some collaboration on major issues, such as juvenile justice reform, “other days, you’d get out on the House floor and think, ‘This is so stupid, I can’t stand to be involved in it.’”

During his decade in the Legislature, Ritchie kept in close contact with his friends and business associates in Pensacola. And on leaving politics, he was ready to go back into banking. After raising $13 million, Gulf Coast opened in July 2003. This past summer, the bank raised another $6 million from stockholders to expand its capital base.

Ritchie’s advice to the younger set is simple: Understand customer service and be patient.

“You may read some stories or see television shows about someone who made it overnight,” Ritchie says, “but most of those people worked awfully hard for a long time to get where they are.”