There's a phenomenon that could be described as the "North Carolina syndrome." Those afflicted with it tend to be both men and bankers. The symptoms: "acquire, acquire, acquireno matter what the cost." At least three executives are known to have the condition. Two are obvious: Hugh McColl, who is retiring as CEO of Bank of America, and Ed Crutchfield, recently retired chairman and CEO of First Union. Both BofA and First Union are based in Charlotte. (Crutchfield was actually born in Detroit, where his father was an FBI agent, but grew up in North Carolina.)The third North Carolina native who fits the bill is William B. Harrison Jr., who, of course, heads the newly merged J. P. Morgan Chase & Co.The sagas of McColl and Crutchfield are well known. Both took relatively small banks and through acquisition after acquisition turned them into banking behemoths. Unfortunately, they lost sight of the bottom line and their banks have not been performing particularly well.Now, Harrison, 57, who was born in North Carolina and graduated with an economics degree from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, seems to be following the same course.He was named CEO of Chase in mid-1999 and within six months purchased Hambrecht & Quist, the San Francisco-based investment bank, and then quickly snatched up Robert Flemings Holdings, the British asset management and investment banking boutique. Then he bought the Beacon Group, a small firm that advised on mergers and acquisitions. And at the end of last year, Chase's huge merger with Morgan became effective. The question is whether Harrison will recover from the syndrome before he retires.
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