Chief operating officer Marquette Bank, Minneapolis

At a time when many bankers complain that work isn't much fun anymore, Bert Colianni seems an anomaly.

The way he talks, his job packs at least as much excitement as his recreational passion -- snow skiing.

Those skills have evidently prepared Mr. Colianni for the slalom course that his life has become. He has day-to-day responsibility for the Minnesota banking empire of Carl Pohlad, who is better known as the owner of the Minnesota Twins. Mr. Colianni calls it "a great place to be.

Over 10 years, including the past three as executive vice president and chief operating officer of Marquette Bank Minneapolis, the 38-year-old executive helped build one of Minnesota's largest and most profitable community banking networks.

In December, Mr. Pohlad sold Marquette Minneapolis, his largest bank, to First Bank System Inc. That took $2.1 billion of assets and 700 employees away from Mr. Colianni.

But he is still in charge of 12 other Marquette banks, with $1 billion in assets. They represent a third of Pohlad-controlled banking assets in 11 midwestern and southwestern states.

The Minnesota banks' largely, autonomous presidents report to Mr. Colianni, as do more than 500 other employees, directly or indirectly.

The fast-moving, privately held banking chain "is different from a publicly held situation, Mr. Colianni said. "It takes special characteristics besides the usual management disciplines.

"There is a very strong family orientation, and a lot of entrepreneurial and creative requirements, especially in the acquisition of troubled institutions that have to be turned around," Mr. Colianni said. "Those are also fun. Around here, we call them |postgraduate education.'"

Mr. Colianni didn't go the typical MBA route. He graduated from a "comprehensive public accounting" program at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, then spent six years with Coopers & Lybrand before joining the financial side of the Pohlad organization in May 1982.

After moving through several line positions, he became the lead bank's chief operating officer in the fall of 1989. In 1991, the other Minnesota banks began reporting to him, and in 1992 he joined the Marquette board. With his boss Thomas Herbst, who also supervises the out-of-state banks' presidents, and Mr. Pohlad's son James, Mr. Colianni negotiated the details of the Minneapolis bank's sale to First Bank System.

The $200 million transaction was a beginning, not an end.

It's safe to say that the Pohlad group will be growing, said Mr. Colianni, the father of four children, aged 5 to 14. "My career is pretty wrapped up with it -- and will continue to be as long as it is this much fun.

Be that as it may, Mr. Colianni's wife, Suzie, may have the better deal. Like her husband, she is a certified ski instructor, but she made a career of it: She is co-owner of a ski school for women.

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