Rusty Page earned his battle scars as a road-show veteran during his 15-year career as an investment relations executive at NationsBank Corp.

He blames years of hoisting suitcases for the arthritis in his right shoulder and elbow. He has survived two heart attacks, three marriages, and an eating disorder.

But he so loves the challenge of selling a company's story that he dreamed up a new line of business for NationsBank - investor-relations consulting to corporate customers (for a fee, of course).

Now Mr. Page hopes to continue this line of work on his own.

He has established Strategic Equity Marketing, his own consulting firm, in a historic building in downtown Charlotte, N.C. . Already, he says, he has all the customers he can handle on his own, so he has decided to hire some help.

"This is a storybook time of my life," he said. "NationsBank allowed me the latitude to do my job and to try this out, which led to the evolution to my own business."

Mr. Page is one of an increasing number of bank executives now creating their own businesses. Indeed, Dennis W. Burnette, who heads a financial- executive search practice , said he's seeing more bank executives who launch out on their own and remain on their own rather than return to a big bank when the right job comes along.

"Consulting work isn't necessarily just a resume-builder anymore," said Mr. Burnette, who works in Atlanta for the Sanford Rose Associates employment firm. (The firm is not connected with the former senior American Banker columnist of that name.)

Mr. Page, 53, said the original idea of launching an in-house investor- relations consulting firm for NationsBank came to him several years ago at one of thousands of presentations he'd made about the bank. Afterward, the top executives from United Companies Financial Corp., a consumer-finance company, asked for his help.

Mr. Page, 53, persuaded his boss, NationsBank chairman and chief executive Hugh McColl Jr., to let him take a stab at working with the bank's consumer-finance subsidiary, whose thinly traded, largely ignored stock was languishing around $16.50 a share.

Mr. Page advised the firm to write off a money-losing subsidiary, pump capital into its operations through a private placement, and split the stock to increase its float. Voila! The stock soared 342.7% in 1993.

But Mr. Page had no desire to leave the bank when he started the in- house venture. At first, "the idea I had was that the bank could provide this fee-based service for its corporate customers," he said. "Obviously, the concept was very viable."

The bank let Mr. Page do a few more short-term consulting stints with customers, suggesting ways to improve their valuation or profile with investors. But it wasn't enough for him..

Mr. Page envisioned - and still does - a new role for investor relations at regional banks: His consulting work would provide business for NationsBank's capital-markets division, which has section 20 powers, meaning it can underwrite stock offerings.

But the bank doesn't do so yet, and it has deemphasized the unit in recent months. "It just wasn't a front-burner issue for them," he says. "But I was hooked."

Mr. Page got his first taste of investor relations with PCA International Inc., a portrait photography company based in suburban Charlotte that hired him to handle its advertising and marketing. Soon he was in charge of the road shows.

"I couldn't even spell IPO," he says, "but it was a great way to learn."

Mr. Page's earlier jobs as a late-night DJ, raincoat salesman, and syndicated TV show host haven't hurt either - he's well known among bankers and Charlotte circles for his Elvis impersonations, as well as for "Smedley," the proper butler on his answering machine.

Now Mr. Page has found a new stage. "At NationsBank, I had met my major challenges, and my associates were assuming more and more responsibility. I needed some new threshold to crash through.

"This is it."

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