Alan R. Adelman, the new chief investment officer for First Union Corp.'s private client group, knows how to put out fires.

When a wildfire threatened his Malibu house four years ago, Mr. Adelman raced home from his office at First Interstate Bancorp in Los Angeles to keep it from going up in flames.

"Here I am with a charred monogrammed shirt, suit pants, and a blackened bandana wrapped around my face," Mr. Adelman recalled. The banker climbed to his roof and quenched the fire with water from a garden hose.

These days, Mr. Adelman is more likely to be battling heat thrown off by the volatile financial markets than beating back smoke. Is he as successful at that as he was at saving his home?

"No, but I do try to be responsive," Mr. Adelman said.

And that's why First Union tapped him to help it manage assets for wealthy people-a highly customized, high-touch business. He is now boss to 125 portfolio managers, who work in 70 First Union offices from Florida to Connecticut. But according to Mr. Adelman, the real boss is the clientele: The bank manages $26 billion of assets for the well-heeled.

Richard K. Wagoner, First Union's chief investment officer and an executive vice president in the bank's capital management group, said that when he was looking for someone to head First Investment Advisors-a job that entails coordinating the work of portfolio managers, private bankers, trust officers, and financial planners-Mr. Adelman's resume quickly floated to the top.

"I have to say I like the guy," Mr. Wagoner said. "That (affability) brings an added dimension to the serious world of money management that really helps."

Former First Interstate Bancorp colleagues recall that Mr. Adelman is good at spotting talent among his charges and is very open and friendly with his co-workers.

A sales manager who worked with Mr. Adelman in California said his flexible personality made him a natural with clients, prospects, and employees.

"He's an extremely intelligent guy, clearly a quantitative type, but he understands that clients are looking for more hands-on" treatment, said Daniel J. Wroblewski, president of First Trade Union Trust Co.

Mr. Wroblewski added that Mr. Adelman's ingenuity in product design won clients over. "You would think a typical quant would say, 'There isn't a model for this,'" he said. "But Alan would say, 'I understand, and we'll create a model for this.'"

Mr. Adelman said he will build the business with the help of internal talent, including John J. McCarthy, personal trust sales manager for North Carolina, who will lead sales for First Investment Advisors.

"Jack is a dynamo," Mr. Adelman said, adding that he was attracted to First Union by the executives in the capital management group.

"The ideas and energy these people have is nothing like any I've experienced in the industry," he said.

"It's a very dynamic organization, one that's trying to take a leading approach."

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