Scott A. Kisting's experiences with Norwest Corp. and BankAmerica Corp. made him a natural choice to head retail banking at California Federal Bank.
Norwest, through its deal for Wells Fargo & Co., and BankAmerica, which is merging with NationsBank Corp., would be two of his biggest competitors.
"If anyone understands the big competitors we'll be up against, I do," said Mr. Kisting, who officially left his previous job Wednesday as president and chief operating officer of Citizens Financial Group, Providence, R.I.
His credentials and competitive insights were critical in San Francisco- based California Federal's decision to name Mr. Kisting executive vice president, effective Sept. 1.
CalFed's merger with Glendale Federal Bank would make it the second- largest financial institution based in California, with $53 billion of assets. The deal is expected to close in September.
Before joining Citizens Financial last year, Mr. Kisting spent six years at Norwest Corp. He worked for 18 years before that at BankAmerica.
"I know and love these markets, the communities, and the opportunities here, and I think there is enough room in the market for CalFed to be very successful," Mr. Kisting said in an interview this week.
The new post affords an "opportunity to play a major role in a very large company and to compete in the biggest and best market," he added.
His coming on board is a major step in the transformation of CalFed into a more commercial-bank-like company, said president and chief operating officer Carl Webb.
"We wanted to give some more depth of senior management to this company, and Scott's skill sets are well-suited to position us to be as bank-like as possible," Mr. Webb said. "We like the Norwest and BankAmerica retail models."
Indeed, Mr. Kisting said he learned some valuable lessons at Norwest that he intends to bring west.
"We created a concept at Norwest we called 'Doing business when, where, and how customers want,'" Mr. Kisting said. "That customer-centric approach is what I believe in, and that is what Carl and (CalFed chairman Gerald J. Ford) and I talked about doing."
Mr. Kisting, 51, started at BankAmerica in 1970 as an assistant cashier. He climbed the ranks to executive vice president in charge of the San Francisco-based company's commercial banking division.
Joining Norwest of Minneapolis in 1990, he was an executive vice president in charge of the Minnesota and Nevada operations, as well as nationwide telemarketing, direct mail, and correspondent banking.
In his new role, Mr. Kisting will oversee the enlarged California Federal's 359 branches, plus marketing, business banking, investments, operations, and technology.
Outside observers described Mr. Kisting's hiring as a coup for CalFed.
At Norwest "he was a force for all the things you like to see a company do in an increasingly competitive environment," said Ben Crabtree, an analyst with Dain Rauscher in Minneapolis. Mr. Crabtree said the banker advocated adoption of new technologies, leading-edge management methods, and tight cost controls.
"His hiring is a significant achievement for CalFed," Mr. Crabtree said.
Mr. Kisting will try to take advantage of the fact that BankAmerica and Wells Fargo are both coupling with out-of-state partners, observers predicted.
As the result of an in-state merger, the combined Glenfed and CalFed can be expected to make much of its "local" status, according to Charles B. Wendel, president of Financial Institutions Consulting in New York.
Mr. Kisting "is going to have a lot of fun in California," Mr. Wendel said. "He is one of the most proactive marketing and progressive people I know."
Mr. Kisting said he could hardly imagine a better set of circumstances. He, his wife, and two children have wanted to return to California, where Mr. Kisting was raised, for some time.
Seemingly out of the blue, he said, he received a recruitment call from Mr. Ford. CalFed's chairman and chief executive officer was a director of Norwest while Mr. Kisting worked there.
"It fit perfectly," Mr. Kisting said.
He went to Citizens Financial after being passed over for the No. 2 position at Norwest in February 1997. He said there are no hard feelings with Norwest chairman and CEO Richard M. Kovacevich, who will be moving to take Wells' helm in San Francisco. Mr. Kisting said he counts his former boss as a "professional and personal friend."