Casey of Allied Irish Banks Masters the American Way

What was originally billed as a four-year assignment in the United States has turned into a long-term success story for Irish-born Jeremiah E. Casey, chairman of First Maryland Bancorp.

During his 14 years on this side of the Atlantic, Mr. Casey has masterfully straddled the cultural divide, adjusting successfully to the changing American focus on business. Along the way, he has accumulated a fair amount of wealth for Allied Irish Banks PLC, parent company of First Maryland.

"One of the first things you learn when you come here is that there is no such thing as a free lunch," said Mr. Casey, 51. "People in the United States are obsessed with the creation and management of wealth."

Up from Obscurity

Since his arrival, Mr. Casey has steadily upgraded Allied Irish. From a little-known foreign institution, limited to a New York representative office, it has risen to an $8 billion-asset U.S. regional bank.

"Coming out here was a gamble in the first place," Mr. Casey said. "When I first came, in 1977, we had no [banking] license, no premises, and no staff."

In 1983, after Allied Irish acquired a 43% stake in Baltimore-based First Maryland, Mr. Casey was named to the board of directors.

In 1985, he rose to vice chairman of First Maryland and its main operating unit, First National Bank of Maryland. He became chairman in 1987.

Two years later, Allied Irish put Mr. Casey in charge of all its U.S. operations, including branches in New York and Chicago.

Further changes are in the offing. In mid-May, Allied Irish said it was bidding for York Bank and Trust Co., the $1.4 billion-asset Pennsylvania unit of Midlantic Corp.

A Downside to the Story

Along with its numerous triumphs, Allied Irish has encountered some significant risks during the years of its U.S. buildup. At home, Allied Irish has been criticized for investing in the United States instead of creating jobs in Ireland. Net profits in the United States slumped 40% in 1990, to $43.5 million, as the U.S. recession deepened.

And Mr. Casey still has some personal misgivings about his long stay in the United States. As is the case with many other foreign executives and their families, the Caseys find themselves living between two different worlds -- not really part of either Ireland or the United States.

"I sometimes have to ask myself whether I was really entitled to transplant them and cut them off from their roots," he says of his family. "It's the single most difficult question you have to confront when you live internationally."

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