Michael C. Baker won't have much time to ease into his new job as Amsouth Bancorp.
Mr. Baker's mission is to consolidate the Birmingham, Ala.-based banking company's four investment services businesses into a single unit.
On Sept. 18, Amsouth named Mr. Baker, the former chief executive of Barnett Banks Trust Co., Jacksonville, Fla., as an executive vice president in charge of its newly formed Capital Management Group. In his new job, he'll oversee all of the company's trust, private banking, asset management, and brokerage activities.
The group manages more than $6.7 billion of trust assets, and $1.8 billion of mutual fund assets in its proprietary Amsouth Funds - the 41st- largest bank-run mutual fund family.
"My mission is to consider ways to deliver high-quality products to our customers, regardless of their service point," Mr. Baker said in a recent telephone interview.
"We're looking at investment services as a business line in and of itself, and trust, brokerage, and mutual funds as just subsets of that core business."
He added that bringing these areas of business together under one person's oversight is becoming more common these days. Indeed, banking companies such as BankAmerica Corp. and First Union Corp. have done much the same.
But while many companies nowadays are choosing brokerage or mutual fund executives to lead their restructuring efforts, Amsouth placed its bets on Mr. Baker, who has spent the last six years as the head of Florida's largest bank-run trust company.
"It's really a reverse of what's happening in the industry," said John Clark, a trust consultant in Beaverton, Ore.
Mr. Baker "has always been an advocate of strong trust marketing," Mr. Clark said.
"He understands that a trust relationship can last up to 50 years, and that rather than milk each customer for as much as they can in a single sale, you need to help people move from one area of the bank to another - from CDs to mutual funds, to eventually the trust department."
"I think that Mike (Baker) will bring that kind of perspective to Amsouth's other" investment businesses, he added.
Indeed, Mr. Baker worked as an asset manager for Allied Bankshares, Houston, and then went on to head both the bank's brokerage and trust subsidiaries. He left Allied shortly after it was acquired by First Interstate Bancorp in the late '80s.
He settled in at Barnett Banks Trust Co. in 1989, taking over as chief executive from Thomas P. Johnson Jr., who had been promoted to head of retail banking for Barnett Banks Inc. At the time, the trust unit was plagued with problems stemming from its corporate trust and bond indenture activities, he said.
"I was really brought in to improve the company's profitability and revenue base, and I think we accomplished that," Mr. Baker said.
The unit, however, continued to struggle for much of the time Mr. Baker was there. Net income for the company did rise 44% between 1990 and 1992, to $11.6 million, according to Sheshunoff Information Services. But the unit only brought in $1 million in 1993 and posted a loss of $349,000 last year. A spokeswoman for Barnett said the unit's profits were diluted because of a restructuring at the company.
Anthony Davis, a bank analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds, in New York disagreed and said, "There has not been any profitability for the company, and I think performance was the issue."
Another bank analyst, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Baker's resignation coincided with Barnett's hiring of Richard Jones, a former Fleet Financial Group executive who was brought in to streamline Barnett's investment businesses and make them run more efficiently and profitably.
The trust company did post a net profit of $4.5 million by the end of the first quarter, according to Sheshunoff. And for his part, Mr. Baker said his decision to leave Barnett had nothing to do with Mr. Jones' arrival, and was simply a better opportunity.
Mr. Baker's familiarity with the Florida market is part of the reason he was hired, he said. The banking company is looking to expand its presence in the state, whose residents are among the wealthiest in the country. Right now, Amsouth has 137 offices in Florida.
He said Amsouth's executive committee "is committed to doing whatever is necessary to rapidly grow" the Capital Management Group. Mr. Baker added that "we're already looking at all sorts of possibilities, and we're not ruling out anything."
Mr. Baker would not elaborate, but he did not deny that Amsouth may be looking to acquire a mutual fund company, or brokerage firm in order to fuel its expansion.
The soft-spoken Mr. Baker said the banking company's ultimate goal is to manage even more of its customers' investable assets.