Chase Manhattan Corp. chief financial officer Dina Dublon considers herself a maverick in an industry where male executives are the norm and conformity is often rewarded.
"I am a woman in senior management ranks, called upon to assist in the creation of value in a very visible way," she said.
It is a role she relishes, whether she is clamping down on internal operations at the $365 billion-asset bank or trying to raise the company's profile with institutional investors.
Ms. Dublon, a native of Israel, credits her success to "a willingness to be straightforward and the courage to ask questions."
She was promoted to chief financial officer in December after several years as executive vice president for corporate planning. Ms. Dublon had been at Chemical Banking Corp., which merged with Chase Manhattan Corp. in 1996, for 14 years.
Ms. Dublon, 45, likes to remind people that Chase was the first to put its toe into what has now become a megamerger tide. Before the Chemical deal, Chase bought Manufacturers Hanover Group in 1992.
"We are the first new company with several years of consolidation under its belt," she said. "We are today the result of three of the largest money-centers in New York."
As the CFO, Ms. Dublon is responsible for imposing financial discipline across the company. Catherine Murray, banking analyst at J.P. Morgan & Co., said Chase employees understand their roles as net income earners.
"Chase has taken considerable steps to make its business base and its capital base, in particular, more productive," Ms. Murray said.
Chase managers had been reporting profits in their units without having to consider the cost of capital, or funding. Under a program implemented with Ms. Dublon, managers must now subtract their cost of funding up front, make that money back, and book a solid return.
Units that do not make money must explain why or risk losing funding.
The approach, which applies to every business line, "has had a very dramatic impact on behaviors," Ms. Dublon said. "It forces greater discipline than we ever had before.
"Managers are much more stingy with their capital," she said.
The system also affects lending. "We have had significantly lower growth in the commercial loan portfolio than we would have had under the old system," Ms. Dublon said.
As a result, Chase's loan portfolio is less prone to defaults.
"What we're saying is, 'It's not just how much money we make, it's how we make it,'" she said.
Another big piece of Ms. Dublon's job is courting Wall Street.
"We do have a way to go in relative valuation," she acknowledged. "Chase has a lot of upside potential with its stock price. The market has not fully recognized the Chase of today compared with the Chase of the past."
Chase is beginning to get recognized on Wall Street. The company's shares were the best performing among money-centers in 1998, rising nearly 30%.
In trying to win more "strong buy" recommendations for Chase shares, Ms. Dublon said she emphasizes the strength of the bank's customer base and its distribution power.
Chase has 32 million retail customers and a corporate core of over 5,000 businesses, Ms. Dublon said.
In terms of distribution, Chase has 500 branches in the metropolitan New York area and another 100 in Texas. Then there are alternative delivery channels including telephone and Internet banking. A large mortgage subsidiary, a credit card unit, and an auto finance division also add to the bank's ability to reach customers, Ms. Dublon said.
Any institutional investor who values growth and consistency, she argued, should own Chase stock.
Chase "is very well positioned to compete," she said. "Over the next five years, you will see us continue to participate in smaller acquisitions and you will see us participate in more strategic mergers."
Ms. Dublon plays a key role in deciding what deals to do.
"We are always looking, absolutely," she said. "I am paid to help us think through the implications of doing different transactions.
"I do have a full draw, a locked full drawer," of potential targets.
Ms. Dublon declined to discuss possible merger candidates by name, but market watchers have long seen Merrill Lynch & Co. as a potential partner to give Chase equities expertise. A deal with an out-of-state banking company would expand Chase's relatively limited geographic reach.
Chase is definitely operating from a position of strength, analysts say.
The company "has done a good job of positioning itself as a solid competitor in each of its business segments," said Sharada Krishnappa, portfolio manager with Parker/Hunter Inc.