Higher Education: Profile
How a college injury put Brian Lamb on path to the Board of Governors
“How do you respond to that level of adversity that you haven't seen before? That really was a defining moment for me.”
Brian Lamb, 45
TITLE: Head of Northeast U.S. middle market banking, JPMorgan Chase
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s and MBA, University of South Florida; graduate of the Stonier Graduate Banking School at the University of Pennsylvania
FAMILY: Wife, Paulette, three children, and one sister, Rolanda Walton, who works for Florida Blue.
LEGACY: When Lamb’s father, Eugene Lamb Jr., was home from college in the summer of 1967, he worked as a brick mason helper at Tallahassee Community College to help support his family. Forty-three years later, he was named chairman of the college’s board. “We have been laying bricks in the state of Florida for a very long time, and we will continue to do that as long as we can,” Brian Lamb said.
A Florida native, Brian Lamb grew up in Midway — a “little place” with no stoplights that’s halfway between Tallahassee and Quincy in Gadsden County. His parents still live in same the house where Lamb and his sister grew up, and they instilled in him, he says, the importance of education and giving back to the community. His mother, Deloris, worked for the Department of Corrections, rising from probation officer to administrator. His father, Eugene Lamb Jr., taught school and coached basketball in Gadsden County’s public schools.
During his senior year at Florida A&M University Developmental Research High School in Tallahassee in 1994, Lamb’s team won the state championship, with Lamb averaging 30 points a game. He got offers from several big names — including Stanford, Fordham and George Washington University — but the 6-foot-2 point guard chose to stay in state, going to University of South Florida on a full athletic scholarship. He got off to a stellar start as a USF Bull, earning all-conference honors as a freshman and serving as team captain for several years. He considers it “one of the best decisions” of his life.
Off the court, Lamb studied accounting. He got the idea for his major after one of the college basketball coaches recruiting him was picked up in a Bentley. “I’d never seen a Bentley in person. I said to the coach, ‘Man, this is my dream car,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Brian, this isn’t my car — it’s my accountant’s.’ Accounting seemed much more interesting at that point,” he says with a chuckle.
But like many other young men playing college ball, the dreams of a big-league career beckoned. Then late in his junior year of college, he tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder — his shooting arm. The tear was surgically repaired, and Lamb was able to return to the court but couldn’t play at the same level. It was life-changing, he says.
“Not playing in the NBA is not something that I would define as adversity, but injuring yourself and at some point seeing your dreams flash before your eyes, feeling like you can’t accomplish or be the best version of yourself — now that is hard, and that’s hard to recover from, and it’s difficult at a very young age,” Lamb recalls. “How do you respond to that level of adversity that you haven’t seen before? That really was a defining moment for me.”
Lamb says he realized he had a choice. He could either wallow in the loss — or he could “channel that energy, that anger, that frustration, that wide range of emotion into effectively being an uncapped level of energy toward something else,” he says.
After graduating USF, Lamb landed his first job as a meter reader at TECO, Tampa Bay’s municipal utility. He rose up the company’s financial ranks, becoming director of financial services at age 27. It was there he struck up a strong connection with TECO’s then-CEO, John Ramil, a mentor and fellow USF alum to whom he still talks regularly. In 2004, a discount brokerage called Home Discovery Real Estate Services recruited Lamb to serve as their CFO. He left after two years to join Fifth Third Bank as CFO of the Tampa market. He ended up becoming president of Fifth Third’s North Florida region before moving into a variety of leadership roles at the bank’s headquarters in Cincinnati.
Today, Lamb lives and works in Manhattan for JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s largest bank. He recently wrapped up a two-year stint there as the company’s first ever head of diversity, equity and inclusion — a role in which he’s helped invest $18 billion of a five-year, $30-billion racial equity commitment by the bank aimed at closing the wealth gap among black, Hispanic and Latino communities.
Despite his geographic moves, Lamb has remained active in Florida. When he joined Fifth Third’s C-suite in Cincinnati in 2016, he continued to serve on USF’s board of trustees. He stepped down from the board in 2019, when Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed him to the Florida Board of Governors, the 17-member board that oversees the State University System of Florida. He says he’ll continue to travel here regularly from the Big Apple to fulfill his term as chair through 2023.
While Lamb says it’s still too early to know how modern college athletics will be shaped with athletes’ new ability to capitalize on their names, images and likenesses, he sees it as a golden opportunity for them to learn important life lessons, just as his experiences as a student athlete shaped his future path.
“I’m happy to see that student athletes are able to realize some of that value to help position them for the future. Not everyone’s going to play professional sports, and so if there’s anything that can get them off to a great start when they’re done with sports or help them make better financial decisions while they’re in college, I think it’s a great opportunity,” he says.
“I’m sure we need to have some balance around that. If I could give any advice to these student athletes, it is to be willing to listen and learn. That will help them make sound financial decisions. It’s a big responsibility to have to consider contractual obligations, managing money, going to college, playing sports. When you aggregate all of that, it’s a lot for a student athlete — so my advice would be to make sure they’re willing to listen and learn from people they can trust and people at the university and otherwise that can help them make good, sound financial decisions. If they do that, and do it well, I think name, image, likeness could be wildly successful.”