SAN FRANCISCO - It isn't exactly the same as getting Michael Jordan or Shaquille O'Neal on your team, but in California banking it's close.
Bank of America this month hired Kathleen Brown, last year's Democratic candidate for governor, to work in its investment management and private banking group. Ms. Brown is also a former state treasurer.
California bankers and consultants are saying that just on the basis of name recognition, Bank of America made a slam dunk by hiring her.
"She's very savvy, very charismatic," said Paul David Schaffer, a partner here with the money management consulting firm Investment Counseling Inc. and an active participant in local party politics.
"Clearly, it makes sense to bring in the celebrity," said Joel Friedman, a managing partner based here with Andersen Consulting, who runs the company's strategic consulting practice for North and South America.
What gets people praising Ms. Brown is not just that she is a well-known politician from one of the country's most prominent political families (she is the daughter of former California Gov. Pat Brown and sister of former Gov. Jerry Brown). She also has big-time corporate and financial credentials.
For four years starting in 1991, she held the elected position of state treasurer, overseeing California's $26 billion investment portfolio and its bond issuances.
From 1985 to 1987 she was a lawyer specializing in public and corporate finance for the law firm of O'Melveny & Myers. She also served as a commissioner on the Board of Public Works for the City of Los Angeles, was a member of the Los Angeles Board of Education, and is currently a director of Rebuild L.A.
Recognizing that it has a unique resource in Ms. Brown, Bank of America is giving her a one-of-a-kind assignment. Based in Los Angeles and reporting to executive vice president Alexander Anderson, Ms. Brown, 49, is a senior vice president whose job is selling money management services to local governments and coming up with a new approach for selling private banking services to wealthy women.
The bank did not disclose her salary, but headhunters said they had little doubt that it exceeded the $90,000 she earned in her last year as state treasurer.
"It's a marvelous opportunity for me to marry the skills I bring from the public and private sectors," Ms. Brown said in an interview.
It is as a rainmaker for business with local governments that Ms. Brown will have the most value, observers said. As a former politician, she is expected to be seen by government officials as someone who understands their problems, both financial and political. She's also got war stripes, having navigated California through some of its most difficult financial times, including a particularly bleak period in 1992.
That year, the state was forced to issue IOUs to pay its employees because of a budget impasse in the legislature. Many banks in the state, led by Bank of America, stopped honoring the IOUs before the impasse was settled and the state was able to start using cash again.
In a state that houses such counties as the bankrupt Orange County, the value of such experience can't be overstated, many experts said.
"She has a terrific reputation and a lot of credibility," said Joe Mysak, editor of the New York-based newsletter Grant's Municipal Bond Observer.
"A lot of counties will be looking for those qualities as they bounce from pillar to post with various budget problems," he added.
What's more, the government money management business is a good one to be focusing on, added Mr. Schaffer.
Local governments, unlike corporations, are actually putting more money in pension plans, he said.
With more than $25 billion under management, and 138 institutional clients investing an average of $181 million each, according to the 1994 Nelson's Directory of Investment Managers, Bank of America ranks as one of the country's biggest money managers.
But Ms. Brown's ambition to sell private banking services to women met with a more mixed response. Ms. Brown said her intention is to help Bank of America serve women who suddenly get control of substantial sums of money from "life crises" - namely, the death of a husband or a divorce. She explained that many of these women are ill-served by financial advisers and make bad financial decisions.
Some observers weren't so sure that such a plan would work, and that a systematic and effective way to serve women differently from men could be found.
"I think it's just window dressing," sniffed one prominent consultant.
But David Ross Palmer, a New York-based consultant specializing in the marketing of banking, investment, and trust services to the wealthy, said he thought Ms. Brown had identified a substantial market opportunity. Other consultants added that Ms. Brown undoubtedly knows a lot of wealthy people, a handy qualification for a private banker.
Ms. Brown comes to Bank of America's investment management and private banking division at a time of transition. Her boss, Mr. Anderson, came to Bank of America from Wells Fargo late last year. Mr. Anderson is consolidating under his control brokerage, investment management, and trust divisions that had been managed separately and afflicted by management turnover.
But Ms. Brown said it was Bank of America's prominence in California's economy and in the state's history that attracted her to the institution. She also said she was "very impressed" with the bank executives she met as state treasurer.
"BofA is an outstanding financial institution which is California born and bred," she said.