BankAmerica Corp. is preparing to put more of its corporate stamp on Nevada.

On May 1, the planned retirement date of chairman Richard A. Etter, Bank of America Nevada will get its first chief executive officer who came up through the BankAmerica system.

Mr. Etter, 57, ran the Las Vegas-based bank - the largest in one of the nation's fastest-growing regional economies - for 14 years. He stayed on after BankAmerica entered Nevada by acquiring his bank, the former Valley Bank, in 1992.

In what amounts to a changing of the guard, executive vice president and commercial banking chief George Smith, 38, is being promoted to president.

Mr. Smith got his start at BankAmerica as a commercial lender in Los Angeles. He left BofA to work at Mitsui Manufacturers Bank and Citicorp, and later came back to BankAmerica in Nevada in 1992.

Mr. Etter, who has put in more than 30 years at Valley and BankAmerica, will continue as a director of the $4.1 billion-asset Nevada bank.

Valley claims a bit of banking history. It professes to be the first institution to shake off the fear of mobsters and cultivate a speciality in casinos. That niche blossomed, helping Valley in the 1980s to supplant First Interstate Bancorp's Nevada subsidiary as the state's largest bank.

Some $600 million of the Nevada bank's $2.3 billion of loans are to gaming concerns like Mirage and Circus Circus. Those loans represent a big chunk of BankAmerica's total of $1.5 billion in worldwide gaming commitments.

"We evolved into the wholesale bank of Nevada, kind of like Morgan Guaranty in New York," Mr. Etter said.

Mr. Etter joined Valley as its computer chief after working for a spell at Burroughs Corp., a predecessor to Unisys Corp.

He later rose to cashier and executive vice president, before the bank's owners and top managers tapped him to succeed them as chairman and chief executive in 1982.

Also surviving the BankAmerica acquisition with Mr. Etter was president Peter Thomas, 45, grandson of one of the original investors who formed Valley in 1954.

Mr. Thomas stepped down last year to manage his family's substantial Nevadareal estate business, although he also continues on the bank's board.

After the BankAmerica takeover, Mr. Etter and Mr. Thomas had to midwife a rough transition. Nearly all the bank's key managers either retired or left because they didn't like the new management style, Mr. Etter said.

In a year and a half, the loan portfolio shrunk by a third as lending officers fled in disagreement with BofA's credit policies.

The change was especially wrenching because at the time of the deal Valley was a far cry from the big-corporate mold. Job titles were deemphasized. Salesmanship was a priority.

Mr. Etter estimated that three-quarters of the employees, including tellers, received at least some incentive pay.

Mr. Etter said he stayed on out of a sense of personal duty to make the deal work. That job accomplished, he said he wants to retire at a relatively young age and live off his sizable holdings of BankAmerica stock.

He also plans personal pursuits. He wants to travel the country with his wife in a converted commuter bus, which has horses painted on one side and an eagle on the other. Also an avid street biker, Mr. Etter owns a Harley- Davidson.

Last year the Nevada bank was the third most profitable in the BankAmerica system, with a return on assets of 1.53%. Its $54 million of profits was more than Valley ever earned on its own, Mr. Etter said.

He acknowledged that Nevada is becoming more competitive, with recent entries by Norwest Corp. and U.S. Bancorp, and with Wells Fargo & Co. on the way via its pending acquisition of First Interstate. But the banker also anticipates Wells will have the same kinds of transitional problems in Nevada that BofA had, presenting at least a short-term opportunity.

Indeed, the head of First Interstate Bank of Nevada, Clinton Arnoldus, has announced that he will resign after the merger.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.