It's been five years since James R. Kenny was unceremoniously turned out as president of Pacific Western Bancshares, but he isn't thinking about the past.

As president and chief executive of San Jose National Bank, he has his hands full leading his $252 million institution in the face of competition from bigger rivals, including Pacific Western's successor, Comerica Bank California.

His strategy has been to carve out a niche for his bank as a wholesale- oriented institution, and his efforts appear to be paying off. A former laggard, the San Jose bank is enjoying success unprecedented in its 16-year history - 17 straight quarters of increasing profits.

That's the same kind of track record he enjoyed for most of his years at Pacific Western. Along with a talented management team, he helped make the bank a premier player in the San Jose market in the 1970s.

Pacific Western's success continued through the early 1980s, but then its fortunes began to flag as bad loans, unprofitable investments, and costly acquisitions began to take their toll.

The Pacific Western chairman blamed Mr. Kenny for the bank's decline and fired the $700,000-a-year executive in 1991.

The ouster was a searing experience for Mr. Kenny. He and Mr. Boyce had been close - they had been best men at each other's weddings - but Pacific Western's press release stated only that Mr. Kenny had been 'terminated.'

"It's been five years, and it still bothers me a little bit," Mr. Kenny said. "But I don't dwell on it."

Mr. Boyce declined through a spokesman to discuss the situation.

Despite their once-close relationship, the two men could not be more different in their management styles, colleagues say.

"Jim allows for individual decision-making, which is the exact opposite of what his former boss was like," said Eugene E. Blankeslee.

Mr. Blankslee is San Jose National's chief financial officer and an alumnus of Pacific Western. Like Mr. Kenny, he was also dismissed by Mr. Boyce.

"Jim doesn't like to waste a lot of time if it isn't necessary," Mr. Blankslee said. "His mindset is: Let's think things through, reach a decision, and go on."

Mr. Kenny didn't waste time getting back on his feet after being dismissed from Pacific Western. He had kept his eye on San Jose National from afar and called up Arthur K. Lund, then its chairman, with a proposition.

"I told him I could make it work," Mr. Kenny said. "The bank was a mess. It was very inconsistent, it didn't have any focus or commitment, and it was invisible within the community."

San Jose National, then with just $95 million in assets, lost $191,000 in 1991 and had posted deficits in three of the previous five years.

Mr. Lund was impressed enough with Mr. Kenny's ideas to make him president, the bank's fourth in 10 years.

Mr. Kenny began by trying to build on the bank's strengths - its courier service and cash management system, which mitigated the need for an extensive branch network.

San Jose National also began to build its real estate portfolio, its SBA lending and factoring franchise. It's in the process of adding Astra Financial Inc., an asset-based lending company.

Mr. Kenny has built the bank into a $250 million institution, and has his sights set on growing past the $500 million mark - and perhaps twice that size. He thinks footings of a half-billion dollars or more are needed to compete effectively over the long haul.

He said there are no big surprises in store for 1996. He'd like to make an acquisition, but the price and conditions will have to be right.

Mr. Blakeslee said San Jose National's competition is principally Cupertino National Bank and superregional Wells Fargo, which has made a concerted effort in medium-size commercial real estate lending.

As for going up against the Comerica unit, Mr. Kenny said that's not quite the same as competing with his former boss, who sold Pacific Western in 1993.

"It was a little more fun taking on Pacific Western," Mr. Kenny said. "Now we're more interested in concentrating on ourselves."

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