A 12-year veteran of First American Corp. has been named to head the high-profile bank investment marketing business that the Nashville banking company acquired two years ago.

With the appointment of Robert R. Blagojevich, First American appears to be putting its imprint on IFC Holdings Inc., the parent of Invest Financial Corp. and Investment Centers of America Inc. The companies sell mutual funds, annuities, and other investments through more than 400 financial institutions nationwide.

Mr. Blagojevich, 42, was elected chairman, president, and chief executive officer of the Tampa-based company by a nine-member board that includes four First American executives. He was executive vice president of First American's brokerage and trust group until October, when he became Invest's president.

He succeeds Merlin R. Gackle, 50, who resigned effective July 15 as IFC's chairman and CEO after four years at the helm. Mr. Gackle joined Invest in 1990.

Some observers suggested that Mr. Gackle's sudden departure resulted from a culture clash with First American. But a spokeswoman for IFC said that though Mr. Gackle's departure was somewhat surprising, the parting was amicable. She added that he will pursue personal interests. Mr. Gackle did not return a phone call to his home.

Observers said it made sense for First American to pick one of its own executives to head the firm. Companies tend to wait to make such changes until after the dust of an acquisition settles, said Michael Mayo, a bank analyst who follows First American for Credit Suisse First Boston, New York.

"There's a balancing act going on between getting the target adequate leeway so that the internal culture is not disrupted too quickly, but at the same time maintaining adequate oversight to make sure that the merger and growth target is going to be met," Mr. Mayo said.

Community banks turn to companies such as Invest and Investment Centers of America-so-called third-party marketers-for help in offering brokerage services in their branches. The companies sold a combined $3.9 billion last year, according to IFC. Last year Invest ranked third and Investment Centers of America ranked 11th as sellers of investment products through banks, according to a study by American Brokerage Consultants, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Though the third-party marketers are a small part of the revenue picture for First American, the $18 billion-asset banking company views them as an important piece of its fee-income strategy.

First American has boosted fee-based revenues to 37% of its top line, versus 27% in 1996. "So the bottom line is you get potential for more growth with less risk," Mr. Mayo said.

Mr. Blagojevich, who started his new position Thursday, said he fits right in with First American's culture to be customer-focused. "That's not to say it doesn't exist now, but I will continue to strengthen those relationships," he said.

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