As PR Man for Megamergers, George Sard Has Been Busy

George Sard suspected he would be unusually busy last summer when Chemical Banking Corp. and Manufacturers Hanover Corp. tapped his public relations company to handle the announcement of their $2.3 billion megamerger.

Little did he know.

Shortly afterward, his firm, Adams and Rinehart, was selected to handle public relations on the $4.3 billion merger of BankAmerica Corp. and Security Pacific Corp.

Then, in late September, the 38-year-old executive was called in to represent the $1.2 billion deal between Comerica Corp. and Manufacturers National Corp.

Preparing CEOs for the Press

"By that time, we were a little more polished," Mr. Sard says.

Such modesty belies his tough, no-nonsense style of coaching his clients. The former bank public relations officer plays the role of aggressive reporter, grilling chief executive officers with potential questions at a "dress rehearsal" press conference hours before the Dow Jones News Wire carries the merger news.

"I hope that I am tougher on them than the media will ever be," says Mr. Sard, who joined Adams and Rinehart as an account executive in 1980 and is now the president and chief operating officer.

Timing of the Announcement

He advised Chemical and Manny Hanny to get board approval for the deal on a Sunday and announce it early the following morning. The strategy was twofold: minimize the possibility of leaks, and give the media plenty of time to work up stories, which would ensure maximum coverage.

That strategy was repeated in the BankAmerica and Comerica deals, as well as in the NCNB Corp. and C&S/Sovran Corp. merger, which Adams and Rinehart did not handle.

The credit for keeping the Chemical and BankAmerica deals a secret went beyond Mr. Sard, of course. The mergers were hatched in person-to-person conferences between chief executives over a period of months. Mr. Sard was called in a mere 10 days before the announcement of each (which isn't much time, he jokes, because unlike an investment banker, he is paid by the hour).

Because of the tight security required to prevent leaks, the inner circle included only a handful of executives from each company and the top corporate communications executives at the banks.

The Vacation that Wasn't

For example, before the Chemical announcement, the top public relations staff headed off for a purported summer vacation - but actually went to the Adams and Rinehart offices, which became merger central.

Mr. Sard cut his eyeteeth in banking as a corporate communications vice president at East New York Savings Bank in 1978.

In 1980, his bank raced Citibank to announce the first NOW account in the state, shortly after a law was passed allowing such accounts.

"We were two days ahead of Citi," he says with a note of pride.

Before joining Adams and Rinehart, he worked for a National Public Radio affiliate WCUW/FM in Worcester, Mass., as a news director and, eventually, general manager. He graduated from Clark University in 1975.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.