BankAmerica Corp. chief executive officer Hugh L. McColl Jr. came to San Francisco Tuesday to underscore the company's commitment to local business and community interests, but he failed to impress some politicians and activists.
These critics, concerned that BankAmerica might pay less attention to California now that its headquarters are in Charlotte, N.C., reacted lukewarmly to Mr. McColl's announcement of a $5 million donation to the University of California-San Francisco.
"It is wonderful to support the University of California, but that still doesn't answer the questions we need answered about small business and affordable housing loans," said Alan Fisher, executive director of the California Reinvestment Committee.
He said it would take more than "cameo appearances" by Mr. McColl to quiet the criticism.
Michael Yaki, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, called the donation "a nice start. But they have a long way to go. There is still the question of what kind of partner they are going to be in working on community development."
Robert Gnaizda, general counsel of the Greenlining Coalition, was even more outspoken: "Given the magnitude of the needs here, $5 million is embarrassing. It's a ludicrous effort to pacify community needs."
Also on Tuesday, a BankAmerica spokesman said that 95 supervisory staff members at Bay Area branches were told that their jobs have been eliminated. The bank will attempt to place these employees elsewhere in the company. BankAmerica employs 20,000 people in the Bay Area and 180,000 companywide.
Mr. McColl told a San Francisco newspaper Monday that the company plans to cut its total staff by about 10%, or 18,000, over the next three to four years.
The bank had said earlier that 5,000 to 8,000 employees would be laid off over three years because of the 1998 merger of Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank Corp. with BankAmerica Corp. of San Francisco.
The number rises to 18,000 by including attrition, the bank said.
Analysts said they were comfortable with the estimate, especially since BankAmerica has begun cutting back operations in several foreign countries."Given the size of the company, the time frame, and the fact that the bank is paring internationally, this number makes sense," said Michael L. Mayo, an analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston.
In a speech Tuesday to San Francisco's Commonwealth Club, Mr. McColl acknowledged the often harsh criticism aimed at his company since the merger closed Sept. 30. City and state officials are afraid of cutbacks in lending and philanthropy in the West. The bank has also taken heat for work force diversity and community development issues.
"As you might expect, I'll take all the kind words I can get right now," Mr. McColl said after he was introduced.
To allay those stated fears, the 63-year-old executive argued that a bank as large as BankAmerica must hand decision-making power to locally based executives.
"Attempting to run an organization by concentrating all authority in one place is a recipe for disaster," Mr. McColl said.
R. Eugene Taylor, head of BankAmerica's western region, and Barbara Desoer, president of Northern California banking, are earning "good money" to manage the bank's operations from a local perspective, Mr. McColl said.
"We're not paying them to run a cookie-cutter business according to some Charlotte-driven formula," he added.
Mr. McColl also addressed recent reports that seven out of 10 top female executives from the former BankAmerica have resigned. "We base decisions on facts and rewards on results. Nothing else," he said.
As in the past, the BankAmerica chief did not specify how much of the bank's $350 billion, 10-year community reinvestment pledge would be earmarked for California, a fact that has drawn criticism from activists. He did say that the $70 billion California community development commitment made by BankAmerica before the merger should be viewed as "a floor, not a ceiling.
"For us to thrive, California must thrive," he said. "We have the resources to help make that happen."
The $5 million donation would help U.C. San Francisco build a new campus in an area that is the target of a major redevelopment effort, designed in part to generate more than 40,000 jobs in the city.