WASHINGTON - When Paul A. Schosberg was appointed president of the newly formed Savings and Community Bankers of America on June 1, some members doubted he was the right man for the job.

While his mission was to merge two rival trade groups with thousands of members into a cohesive unit, the 54-year-old New Yorker had no experience running a national organization.

But after just two months at his new post, Mr. Schosberg is turning many of the doubters into believers.

"The mess he jumped into the middle of - so far he's doing a good job," said Skip Martin, an SCBA board member who initially opposed Mr. Schosberg's hiring.

A successful merger would help restore some credibility to an industry discredited by the collapse of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corp. in 1988. It's particularly important for the organization to become a convincing voice on Capitol Hill, because lawmakers will largely determine the future of S&Ls.

The most apparent sign of Mr. Schosberg's preliminary success is the lack of visible friction between the two factions that make up the new trade group.

Savings and loans formerly represented by the U.S. League of Savings Institutions always seemed at odds with the northeastern savings banks represented by the National Council of Community Bankers.

A Rocky Courtship

Initial merger talks between the two groups had been testy enough to break off on several occasions. When they finally agreed to marriage, after almost two years of discussions, it was more the result of economic pressures - wrought by shrinking memberships - than any meeting of the minds.

"Of mergers that I have seen, this is going spectacularly well," said a former National Council employee who now works for the new group.

An employee who came from the U.S. League concurred. "I don't see any mines blowing up," the employee said.

Headed Small Staff

To many, Mr. Schosberg seemed an unlikely choice to orchestrate the merger. He had been at the helm of the primary S&L organization in New York State for 18 years. Then he was bumped to the No. 2 position following its merger with a state organization for savings banks.

He had garnered a reputation for being savvy about politics, but it was uncertain if he could manage a staff of about 100 people. He headed a staff of only about 10 at the state group.

Another item that raised doubts was the resume of his earlier years, which were eclectic, to say the least. His work history included time on Capitol Hill during the mid-'60s and early '70s as an aide to a House Banking Committee member.

Before that, he had spent several years as a journalist for a suburban paper, during which time he co-authored a book about a congressional race.

Some Crucial Defections

The logistics of the merger alone were a nightmare. Each group had its own headquarters space in Washington, about a mile apart.

Personnel had to be shuffled between two buildings and staff structure had to be changed to accommodate new employees. Some key people quit. Others had to be fired to reduce costs and eliminate duplication of jobs.

Among the key people who departed voluntarily were lobbyists J. Denis O'Toole of the league, who is working for Household International Inc., and the council's Peter Brereton.

Mr. Schosberg moved quickly to replace them with Alfred Pollard, a veteran lobbyist who was director of government relations with Security Pacific Corp. and is well known and liked on Capitol Hill.

Against |Remoteness'

Mr. Schosberg is also demonstrating an ability early on to set a political agenda for the potentially fractious group, primarily by making the organization as democratic as possible.

He says he wants to "return" the trade group to its 2,000 members. In the past, members felt intimidated by the staff, and there was a sense of "remoteness."

He will engineer the change by getting members involved in the decision-making process. For example, he's formed a 40-member government affairs steering committee to decide on legislative goals.

He'll also hold board meetings in cities around the country, not just in Washington, and he's forming a standing committee to address the issue of the Federal Home Loan Bank System.

Strength at the Roots

"It's going to be more member driven," Mr. Schosberg said. "It is going to draw its strength from the strength of the industry at its roots. That's got to be more than rhetoric; that's got to be real."

But perhaps the most acute problem for Mr. Schosberg is finances. Separately, the league and council lost millions of dollars in 1991. Combined losses are expected to reach $2.1 million this year, primarily due to falling membership caused by mergers and failures of thrift institutions nationwide.

Mr. Schosberg said SCBA hopes to bring in as many as 100 new members over the next 12 months by offering a dues discount of 25% to 30%. On average, a member pays about $6,000 in annual dues.

He said there are no plans to increase dues next year. He also expects the trade group to break into the black by 1993.

"I'm not looking for a picnic," said Mr. Schosberg, who finds that it takes him 13 to 14 hours a day to manage the new organization.

Mr. Schosberg, of course, is handsomely remunerated for his services. He declined to disclose his salary, even though it will be disclosed next April on public financial filings that all not-for-profit groups must file with the Internal Revenue Service.

The league and the council each paid their former heads close to $300,000 a year; Mr. Schosberg is thought to be paid something less than this.

The salary "is enough for me to live on," was all that Mr. Schosberg would volunteer. "I don't aspire to own a 40-foot yacht."

Mr. Schosberg won the job against stiff competition from Neil Milner, chief executive of the Iowa Bankers Association, and William Weber, a partner at the Washington-based Furash & Co. Early on it looked as if Mr. Milner had the job locked up, because it was said he had the blessing of Donald Shackelford, the chairman of the league.

Brushing Up the Image

But Mr. Schosberg rallied with support from state leagues across the country. They argued that the industry needed someone who knew the issues, the politics, and could hit the ground running, and that Mr. Schosberg fit this job description.

Mr. Schosberg's close relationship with the states could help him in the future as he works at restoring the industry's badly corroded image. The members of state groups will be the first to meet the 100 newly elected congressmen in their districts.

"It's like having a bunch of precinct captains," said Richard Hohlt, an S&L consultant and former league lobbyist who is under contract with the SCBA. "At a time when we are going through a transition inside the Beltway, grassroots is going to be critical for the first six months if not longer."

Mr. Schosberg, one of two children, grew up in New York City. His father,.who died in 1965, owned a vending machine company; his mother, who is 87, was an executive secretary in a law firm.

Political Subject Matter

In 1959 he graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont with a political science degree. He then attended Columbia Law School for a year, but dropped out to become a $65-a-week reporter with The Reporter Dispatch in White Plains, N.Y., where he started as a general assignment reporter.

He gravitated toward political stories. In 1964 he co-wrote a book about a congressional primary race between Republicans in Westchester County, entitled, "See How they Run. The Making of a Congressman." He used the pseudonym Paul Allyn to hide his identity as a reporter.

Mr. Schosberg gave up reporting in 1964 to work as chief of staff with Rep. Richard L. Ottenger, who defeated a three-term incumbent. Mr. Ottenger served on the banking committee, where Mr. Schosberg developed contacts in the banking and S&L industries.

He stayed in Washington until 1974, when he was offered a job as head of the New York League of Savings Institutions. He held that post for 18 years.

When Mr. Schosberg isn't thinking about S&Ls, he's working on his eight-acre farm in Katonah, N.Y., where he and his wife Jane have a thoroughbred racehorse business.

Mr. Schosberg doesn't see his latest job in terms of risk and reward.

"I see it really as opportunity," he said. "What's the risk? I'm doing something I love."

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