Harris Bank is going full throttle into a private banking sales drive with a former Boatmen's Bancshares executive at the wheel.

Chicago-based Harris, owned by Bank of Montreal, has brought in William F. Ottinger as a senior vice president to oversee sales management for private banking. Harris spent a year searching before it landed Mr. Ottinger, 56, director of national personal trust sales at Boatmen's.

Mr. Ottinger is one of the first executives to break loose from Boatmen's Trust since its acquirer, NationsBank Corp., began crafting a new asset management business in St. Louis with more than $50 billion of private-client assets.

He first heard from Harris in September, shortly after NationsBank announced the merger.

"Boatmen's is an excellent franchise, but I was looking for something that offered greater potential, and that was Harris," Mr. Ottinger said. "Like Boatmen's, Harris has a 100-year-plus history and excellent investment performance. There is an atmosphere here that is conducive to selling," he added.

Harris Bank, which has $20 billion of assets, is expanding within its own territory, metropolitan Chicago, where it has 140 community branches.

Last year it moved several trust officers out of downtown Chicago and into local branches to firm up client confidence and serve their convenience. Assets under management from private clients topped $30 billion at yearend.

"Harris has a very well-established personal trust and private banking franchise already," said William E. Thonn, executive vice president. "We felt it was critical to take it to a higher level with someone distinguished in the private banking community."

Mr. Ottinger teaches sales techniques and management at Cannon Financial Institute, a private banking and trust training school in Athens, Ga., and at the National Graduate Trust School at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

He started his career in trust sales in 1969 at Citizens and Southern National Bank, an Atlanta bank that was also taken over by NationsBank. Before joining Boatmen's in 1989, Mr. Ottinger had worked at Barnett Banks Inc. and Wachovia Corp.

In Mr. Ottinger, Harris has tapped an unusual resource: a salesman with a reputation for substance.

"He's very well known," said Daniel A. Smith, executive vice president at Cannon. "He was a real institution at Boatmen's for a long time and built their sales force. He's a real person, as opposed to some people in the business who are sort of plasticky."

At Harris, Mr. Thonn said, he expects Mr. Ottinger to add trust and private banking clients from its base of 750,000 bank customers.

"That's a big base to work off of. I can go into the bank and leverage those prospects," Mr. Ottinger said. "Granted, that may seem somewhat short-focused, but that's where we begin."

Initially working with 15 salespeople, Mr. Ottinger said, he sees no obstacles ahead.

The reason for his confidence: Harris' management style is reminiscent of Boatmen's, where salespeople were welcome to forage for leads in the retail and corporate banking divisions-a strategy practiced by few other banks. "Boatmen's Trust was very good at allowing this type of access. There were very few walls," he said.

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