It was Donald L. McWhorter's idea to lead Banc One Corp. into the Southwest. It is his new job to bring Banc One's acquisitions in the region up to the company's exacting performance standards.

A 20-year Banc One veteran, Mr. McWhorter recently was named president of the Columbus, Ohio-based holding company. The position, which had been vacant for about five years, puts him second in command to the chairman and chief executive, John B. McCoy.

The promotion from the top spot in Banc One's Ohio operations merely confirms Mr. McWhorter's growing influence at the company. He was the driving force behind its purchase of 20 failed MBanks in Texas in 1989.

A Big Job to Do

Mr. McWhorter, 56, downplays his change of status, saying he probably had "24 to 30 hours of excitement and pleasure before the realization set in that I've got a job to do."

And it is quite a job. Banc One's pending and completed acquisitions in the Southwest - including Arizona, Colorado, and Texas - will top $30 billion of assets, equal to 45% of the company's total.

"The great challenge is to bring in the new organizations while preserving the culture that's been so good to us over the years," said Mr. McWhorter.

He views technology and training as important keys to getting the job done. Indeed, Mr. McWhorter is under the gun to implement two new Banc One tools that he himself helped develop.

He was instrumental in forging a venture among Banc One, Norwest Corp., and Electronic Data Systems Corp. to develop data-processing software that organizes information around customers, instead of account categories. Praised as one of the industry's top technology innovations, the system is coming on stream in the Midwest but won't be exported South until other data-processing contracts expire in roughly 18 months.

Similarly, Mr. McWhorter's Banc One Institute - a skills and management training unit he established 18 months ago - is operating but cannot yet accommodate the legion of southwestern officers who will have to learn and adopt Banc One's approaches.

Making the Grand Tour

Mr. McWhorter has wasted no time getting in touch with his troops. Since being named to this new position late last month, he has has toured roughly two dozen destinations within the franchise.

"Every success starts with having the right people, and sometimes the most difficult assignment is connecting the right personalities and skills with the right responsibilities," Mr. McWhorter said.

In terms of style, Mr. McWhorter is more coach than cheerleader, saying, "I like consensus-building, but I can do it alone if I have to."

The executive admits he sometimes is candid "to a fault," but says making decisions is the key to getting things done. "Once people clearly understand the targets, they can do amazing things trying to get there," he said.

Mr. McWhorter entered the Banc One system in the 1970s when the company bought the community bank he was running. Banc One named him president of the lead bank in Columbus in 1983. He became chairman and chief executive of Bank One Services Corp. in 1988, and chairman and CEO of Banc One Ohio Corp. in 1989. In that position he oversaw a trust company and 24 banks in Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan.

Nurturing the Entrepreneurial Spirit

His current assignment is a delicate one: He must expand the Bank One bureaucracy without killing the organization's entrepreneurial spirit. The executive says he will rely on his roots as a small-town banker and his devotion to "a culture that is truly a religion among our management people" to see him through.

Mr. McWhorter is mindful of market concerns about the rigors of simultaneously absorbing Affiliated Bankshares, Denver; Team Bancshares, Dallas; and Valley National Corp., Phoenix.

"Clearly, the street is looking at that and saying, 'You've got an awful lot to do, and can you have the same success with these acquisitions that you had in the past,'" said Mr. McWhorter.

Eighteen months is how long it will take to clear the decks of acquisitions in progress, said confidently. His goal is "doing for the next 20 years what we did for the last 20 years."

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