CONNECTICUT REMAINS mired in a recession, but R. Nelson Griebel is undaunted.
As chief executive of Bank of Boston Connecticut, Mr. Griebel is leading a beefed-up charge by New England's biggest bank company into a state where it has been a minor player.
In July, Bank of Boston completed its acquisition of Society for Savings Bancorp. in Hartford, and gave Mr. Griebel responsibility for what is now Connecticut's fourth-largest bank.
His position is not enviable, since the state remains in economic stasis. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs are growing at a slower rate in Connecticut than in any other state.
Mr. Griebel, a 17-year Bank of Boston veteran, is the first to admit that there are not many short-term opportunities to build revenue. But he said he believes that Bank of Boston Corp. can be an agent of change not only in Connecticut but throughout New England.
Bank of Boston "has the capability in Connecticut and in other parts of the New England region to be a catalyst," he said, citing a $6 billion credit initiative that the company launched five quarters ago.
Bank of Boston Corp. already has generated some $4 billion in loan commitments to businesses across the region, including $1 billion in Connecticut.
The Connecticut number is likely to increase in October, when Bank of Boston imports its small-business banking program to the state. "We want to be a more aggressive provider to small-business needs," Mr. Griebel said.
For now, the executive is busy integrating Society, a $2.4 billion savings bank with a strong retail franchise, into Bank of Boston Connecticut. The merger creates a bank with $4.8 billion of assets, $3.4 billion of deposits, and 59 branches.
In Hartford County, home to Connecticut's state government and its major insurance companies, Bank of Boston almost tripled its branches to 19 from 10 - making it the county's third-largest bank.
Indeed, Bank of Boston Connecticut already has relocated its corporate headquarters from Waterbury to Hartford, the same town from which its Massachusetts rival, Shawmut National Corp., runs its Connecticut operation.
The Society for Savings name, however, will remain on the newly acquired branches until the end of the first quarter of 1994, Mr. Griebel said, noting that integration of the two institutions' systems won't be completed until then.
Mr. Griebel is particularly enthusiastic about the strong retail selling culture of Society, which he hopes to instill at other Bank of Boston Connecticut branches.
"Society has adopted a much richer and deeper sales culture than we have," Mr. Griebel said. "Our focus for so long in the branches has been to provide deposit services. We now have a great opportunity to be more sales-oriented."
The change also gibes with Bank of Boston Corp.'s efforts to alter its historical focus from corporate banking to one that also puts strong emphasis on consumer and small-business banking.
Mr. Griebel will be able to monitor the new approach closely, since Bank of Boston is adopting "The Exchange," a Society program that offers proprietary mutual funds through its Connecticut branches.
Mr. Griebel is simultaneously gunning for more growth in the Nutmeg State. Bank of Boston has only two branches in Fairfield County - an affluent area that borders New York's Westchester County - and the executive wants more.
"We clearly have stated our desire is to be better represented in Fairfield County than we are today." Mr. Griebel said, adding that Bank of Boston is examining "all of the potential steps" it can take to build there.