Exclusive Q&A with Frost Bank Incoming CEO/Chairman Phil Green
Frost Bank, one of the country's biggest banks (it's got an asset balance of $28.3B) and a staple in most Texas skylines, is getting a new leader. Phil Green (a 35-year Frost vet who most recently served as president) will take the helm as chairman & CEO of San Antonio-based Cullen/Frost Bankers in March. We snagged some time to talk about what he has in mind for the new role and why Frost Bank is known for iconic metropolitan real estate.
Bisnow: It was announced earlier this year that you’ll take over the chairman & CEO role for Dick Evans on March 31. How is the move going, and what are your goals for the new role?
Phil Green: I’ve been with the company for 35 years and was CFO for 18 years before moving to the role of president about a year ago. We’ve been in transition time for almost a year. Dick (left, with Phil) has done a great job of orchestrating, he’s basically asked me to perform a COO-type role and told me "you owe me 90 minutes every Monday." Our goal is written in the form of our mission statement. It's 21 words: we will grow and prosper, building long-term relationships based on top quality service, high ethical standards, and safe, sound assets. Tom Frost (part of the original family who founded the bank), who was the chairman before Dick, wrote that. I remember the day he shared it with the executive team; we didn’t realize, at the time, the powerful statement that he made. When we do a good job, it’s because we’ve stayed true to that mission. The more I’ve been around, the more I understand how powerful it is.
Bisnow: Frost Bank is one of the 50 largest banks in the nation and has been ranked in the Top 10 banks by Forbes earlier this year. Why not move the headquarters from San Antonio to a bigger metro area?
Phil Green: The company was founded in San Antonio in 1868 by TC Frost as a mercantile company with his brother and it morphed into far more. Twenty-five years ago, about 75% of the company’s assets were in San Antonio. We have a large employee base and senior and executive management here…The company has grown to what I call a Trans-Texas company; we undertook a series of acquisitions to establish ourselves in every major market in the state. As a result, Houston and Fort Worth are a little larger than San Antonio in terms of loans. Over the last 10 years, we’ve only had one acquisition. It was in the Permian Basin and added a little over $1B. Really, the growth we’ve had in the last eight to 10 years has been organic. We’ve grown almost 10% annual compounded per year; that’s the hardest thing to do. In addition to banking, Frost Bank’s wealth management business is about $30B in terms of trust business. There’s also an insurance brokerage business, which is one of the largest in Texas.
Bisnow: Frost Bank is the largest Texas-based bank doing business only in Texas. Why the focus on Texas first?
Phil Green: It’s our home and there is so much opportunity to grow. Our market share in Houston and Dallas is under 10%. We operate in three of the top 10 largest cities in the US. We don’t want to go a mile wide and an inch deep; we want to be deeply ingrained in Texas and take advantage of that economy. But, we never say never, don’t know what the future will hold. Our focus is on projecting our brand, which is very much identified with Texas and excellence. We can really take advantage of the market that we have here.
Bisnow: Frost Bank is recognizable to most people because of the iconic structures sporting the bank’s logo and name. Why is that important?
Phil Green: We like to be associated with an iconic structure; it helps you identify who we are and allows the public to relate to who and what Frost Bank is. It provides a visual connection that, hopefully, we’ll be able to parlay into a banking relationship one day. The Austin building at 401 Congress is a great example of what we are doing in the various markets we’re in. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. We had a lease that was maturing in a building that we had been in and was associated with an acquisition that we had done. That building didn’t suit us and Cousins was building this one in Austin. It was one of the first new towers there in 20 years or so and they needed a creditworthy lead tenant. It offered more efficient space and wasn’t that much more expensive when you looked at the efficiency of space. When you look at any picture of the Austin skyline, you see that tower. It’s even on your Texas driver’s license. That is a great example of what you can do to project your brand in a market. You can be associated with an excellent property and do it in a way where you don’t have to use your own capital.
Pictured: a rendering of Frost's next iconic building, the 25-story tower being developed by Anthracite Realty Partners at 640 Taylor St in Fort Worth. It broke ground in October and Frost Bank will be the anchor and name tenant. It'll have a lobby-level banking facility and will move its regional HQ and other lines of business into three upper floors, taking 73k SF of the 289k SF building.
Bisnow: You’re a part of a landmark project with the construction of Downtown San Antonio’s first office tower in 30 years. You’re also getting naming rights on buildings in Downtown Fort Worth and Uptown Dallas. Why now?
Phil Green: We’re optimistic about what’s happening in all of these markets. We have a great growth rate and when people see the Frost Bank name, we want them to see quality. For the San Antonio tower, it was three things. It was easy to see it was great for the city; 30 years without an office tower in the downtown area is a long time for any urban environment. It was great for downtown, and the City of San Antonio had an express desire to develop and grow there because a lot of the workforce—particularly the younger generation—is attracted to the lifestyle of that. San Antonio needed to up the game and bring the talent. It’s important to the business there. Third, it was easy to see it was a good thing for us. We didn’t want to take our capital to develop a project like that. When a development company led by someone like Graham Weston, who is willing to commit his capital to expand his vision of a more vibrant downtown, it was the linchpin. It’s easy to see this was an opportunity for us to make a statement and be a part of a project that will be very exciting to San Antonio while continuing to project our brand in a forward-thinking way.
Pictured: conceptual art of the San Antonio project, which is still in design.
Here’s the new 22-story Frost Tower at 2950 N Harwood in Uptown Dallas, which opened this year. Developed by Harwood International, the pencil office high-rise has more than 167k SF. Frost, a long-term tenant of another Harwood property nearby, expanded and occupied more than 60k SF. Frost has a large ground-floor banking lobby and occupies floors 10 to 15. The Frost Bank Dallas HQ has been in the Harwood area since 1996 in the 2727 Harwood building.
Last year, Frost opened Frost Post Oak Financial Center at 1700 Post Oak Blvd in the Galleria area of Houston. The 58k SF office space houses the financial center on the ground floor and the regional HQ on the second, third and fourth floors. The Post Oak Financial Center was previously one block south of the new location. The regional HQ had its operations spread throughout several branches. This new building brings everything together.