In addition to setting records for transaction volume and earnings in corporate finance, 1996 was the year of the big executive move.

Commercial banks sought to grow their fledgling section 20 units, while investment banks looked to beef up their nascent loan syndication efforts. And players on both sides of the banking fence were hungry to build their merger-and-acquisition practices as the corporate landscape continued to consolidate.

The result: The corporate finance job market was hotter than ever.

"Nineteen ninety-six was a very high-profile recruiting year for very significant and senior players across a variety of industries," said Joan Zimmerman, an executive recruiter specializing in finance at GZ Stephens Inc. "It's hard to imagine it can maintain the level we've seen in 1996, which was really fueled by a tremendous profitability."

While investment banks have long lured commercial bankers with promises of fat paychecks and perks, in 1996 the talent began to move the other way, too. Such firms as Morgan Stanley & Co. and Salomon Brothers picked off seasoned loan pros from staid commercial banks.

"The flow of people is nowhere near as predictable as it was two years ago," said T. Lee Pomeroy, an executive recruiter at Egon Zehnder International. It is "not an eyebrow raiser now when Morgan Stanley hires from Bankers Trust," he added; "two years ago it would have dropped jaws."

Competition between commercial bank leaders in loan syndications also remained heated, especially in highly active sectors like media and communications. Recruiters say such action is apt to continue as bank mergers create lending giants.

Here is a brief look at five of the people whose moves typified those that made headlines last year.

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When Morgan Stanley & Co. entered the syndicated loan business this year, it brought on R. Bram Smith, 48, formerly the head of the bank loan group at Bankers Trust New York Corp. Mr. Smith is now a managing director and head of the firm's senior loan group and president of Morgan Stanley Senior Funding Inc.

A proven performer at Bankers Trust, Mr. Smith led that bank to the No. 1 rank in loans to highly leveraged borrowers.

The hiring demonstrated that "Morgan Stanley is clearly interested in building market share in loan syndications," said Egon Zehnder's Mr. Pomeroy. "Wall Street firms consider (loan syndications) a critical factor in being able to serve a clients needs, so they can offer full service."

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Bank of Boston lost its managing director and head of loan syndications, sales and trading, James C. Lewis, 43, to Fleet Financial Group last March.

Lewis

Mr. Lewis had spent 10 years moving up the ranks of Bank of Boston's media and communications group, ultimately heading the entire syndications operation.

He is now executive vice president in charge of Fleet Financial Corp.'s media and communications group, overseeing bank lending, syndications, merger-and-acquisition advisement, and other corporate finance services to the industry.

Boston-based Fleet allowed him to return to the media industry he knows best, and combine that focus with his broader expertise in corporate finance. The move let him "take advantage of my experience with media and communications companies and corporate finance," Mr. Lewis said in an interview.

Fleet's entrepreneurial spirit, as evidenced by its acquisitions of Shawmut National Corp. and the U.S. retail operations of National Westminster Bank PLC, matched his style well, Mr. Lewis said. And, he added, "my commute stayed the same."

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Merger-and-acquisition leader Eric Gleacher snatched David Knowlton from Chase Manhattan Corp. in December to head the acquisition finance group at Gleacher Natwest, the U.S. M&A and merchant banking arm of National Westminster PLC.

Mr. Knowlton, 39, who most recently was a managing director of Chase Manhattan's acquisition finance group, started out at Manufacturer's Hanover in 1980.

At Gleacher Natwest he is responsible for Natwest's relationships with such high-profile financial acquisition firms as Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Hicks Muse, Kelso & Co., and Hellman & Friedman.

Mr. Knowlton was "attracted to the opportunity not only by the exciting investment banking capabilities of Natwest, but by the world-class M&A experience of Eric Gleacher and his partners and the recent acquisition of Hambro Magan in the U.K.," he said in an interview.

While many firms can now execute one-stop-financing capabilities today, "few can offer exclusivity, confidentiality and equity ideas backed by quick and creative financing commitments," said Mr. Knowlton.

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In the emerging-markets arena, Union Bank of Switzerland made another step toward maturity by bringing on Daniel Canel.

Now a senior managing director at UBS Securities, Mr. Canel is head of fixed-income sales, trading, research, origination, and syndication for North American and European emerging markets

Before the jump to UBS last July, Mr. Canel worked at J.P. Morgan and then spent a brief year and a half at Chase Manhattan.

Mr. Canel "built the department," for emerging markets at J.P. Morgan, said Mr. Pomeroy, and was a valuable addition to the bank's fledging emerging markets department.

Mr. Canel brought Gabe Politzer along with him from Chase to head the trading portion of his division.

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Chase Manhattan lured Mark Davis from Salomon Brothers last May, where he was co-head of that firm's lucrative merger and acquisition group.

Now a managing director and head of global M&A at Chase Securities, he has already supervised the group's work on such major deals as Westinghouse's $5 billion purchase of Infinity Broadcasting and Kmart's recapitalization.

Why did he make the move? "I think Chase has the most powerful M&A and investment banking platform in the world," said Mr. Davis, 37, in an interview.

Mr. Davis had been at Salomon Brothers since 1989.

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