Bank investor John M. Eggemeyer 3d entered California in 1994 with a game plan: build a top-performing community bank company and sell it for top dollar.

He accomplished that mission last month when the holding company he helped create, Los Angeles-based Western Bancorp, agreed to sell itself to U.S. Bancorp for 4.4 times book value.

Now, like a Hollywood producer with a hit movie under his belt, Mr. Eggemeyer is working on a sequel in a new state.

Through his Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., investment fund, Castle Creek Capital, Mr. Eggemeyer recently bought a 25% stake in three-year-old State National Bancshares in Lubbock, Tex.

Mr. Eggemeyer said he injected $10 million into the $860 million-asset State National because he believes Texas-which has more community banks than any other state-is ripe for consolidation.

State National itself has bought four community banks in the Lone Star State.

Its strategy is to buy in university or hospital towns, which are less susceptible to economic downturns.

"I'm always hoping for another Western," he said.

No wonder.

Castle Creek-Western Bancorp's largest shareholder-is to quadruple its money when the $958 million deal with Minneapolis-based U.S. Bancorp closes this year.

Its success began with a $21 million investment in troubled Monarch Bancorp in Orange County. Five years and six acquisitions later, that $60 million-asset bank had grown into what had been renamed Western Bancorp, a $2.6 billion-asset holding company with 31 branches in Southern California.

"Western is a source of immense pride to me," said Mr. Eggemeyer, who negotiated the sale to U.S. Bancorp.

"He had a fantastic game plan and executed flawlessly," said Erick J. Reim, an analyst at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray in Minneapolis. "He did a phenomenal job."

Mr. Eggemeyer's fund has profited in other parts of California as well. In December 1997 it invested in Fresno-based Regency Bancorp.

Two months ago, Regency agreed to sell to Zions Bancorp. of Salt Lake City, for about $60 million, tripling Castle Creek's investment.

Flipping community banks to larger companies is not Mr. Eggemeyer's only money-making strategy.

A former Northwestern University football player, he is also tackling the specialty finance sector.

In the past 12 months, Castle Creek has invested roughly $5 million to amass a 13.6% stake in Union Acceptance Corp., an indirect auto lending company in Indianapolis.

Mr. Eggemeyer acknowledged that specialty finance is out of favor with Wall Street. He does not expect that sector to consolidate as banking is doing because the different business cultures in these companies make mergers difficult.

So his goal is to find companies with low stock prices and potential for strong internal growth.

"I'm trying to identify the good companies with capable management teams," he said.

Mr. Eggemeyer said he has already found these things in his Texas investment, State National.

State National's chairman and chief executive officer, Tom C. Nichols, is no stranger to building banking companies through acquisitions, then selling for a pretty penny.

"He is very experienced at consolidating," said Mr. Eggemeyer.

"We're on the same page," said Mr. Nichols.

Mr. Nichols formerly worked for well-heeled Texas banker Gerald J. Ford, who runs, and owns a 34% stake in, Golden State Bancorp of San Francisco with billionaire financier Ronald Perelman.

While working for Mr. Ford, Mr. Nichols headed First United Bank Group in Albuquerque, N.M. That company was sold to Norwest Corp. for about three times book value in 1994.

State National is likely to go public in 2000. It is a good bet the company will cite the successes of both Mr. Eggemeyer and Mr. Nichols when it tells its story on Wall Street.

And there is no doubt investors will be listening.

"I can't remember Mr. Eggemeyer proposing a bad idea," said Raymond Garea, a senior vice president at Franklin Mutual Advisors in Short Hills, N.J., a mutual fund that owns two million shares of Western.

"I've had a great experience with him."

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