Consultant Works His Way Into Post at Bankers Trust

At an age when many bank executives think about easing into slower-paced fields such as consulting, Alan J. Zakon has made the reverse move - from consulting into the fast lane of commercial banking.

Mr. Zakon, 55, is helping guide Bankers Trust New York Corp. into retail-oriented banking areas that are somewhat alien to its nimble-minded trading culture.

For both Mr. Zakon and the bank, the changes are dramatic.

End of a Tenure at Boston Consulting

Just two years ago, the Massachusetts-born executive was ending a nine-year reign as president and chairman of Boston Consulting Group Inc., a company that had developed a hot reputation in the late 1970s and early 1980s for its strategic planning expertise.

Mr. Zakon had worked there more than 20 years, mostly advising manufacturing and industrial companies on pricing strategies, market share analysis, portfolio management, and growth rates.

"It was basically time for another career," Mr. Zakon said in a recent interview in his office, 17 floors above Park Avenue, where Bankers Trust's senior executives reside. "But my ending up here was total happenstance."

Mr. Zakon had planned to work on his own with some senior Boston Consulting clients, which did not include many banks. Through a mutual friend, however, he was introduced over dinner in 1989 to George Vojta, Bankers Trust's executive vice president.

Mr. Vojta, it turned out, was looking for someone to quarterback a committee of senior executives under orders to devise a strategic plan that the bank could present to customers and investors.

After dropping out of retail branch banking 10 years earlier, Bankers Trust was raking in profits from its currency, interest rate, and securities trading and leveraged-boyout activities. But investors and rating agencies stubbornly refused to award the New York company top valuations, out of fear that profits from the volatile trading markets and LBO financing could not be sustained.

Job Began as Two Days a Week

Mr. Zakon listened, and agreed to take the planning assignment part-time. What began as a two-day-a-week job expanded within a few weeks to three days. By last year, Mr. Zakon found himself in the bank's offices four days a week, with the title of chairman of the strategic policy committee. This year, he signed on full-time.

"Somewhere along the line it dawned on me I was working five days and getting paid for three," the strategist said with a grin. Bankers Trust, he quickly added, is a wonderful place to work, because of its top executives' "attitude and flexibility."

Mr. Zakon is now a managing director in ProfitCo, the operating services and technology unit that includes fee-based businesses such as securities processing, trust, investment management, and private banking. His goal is to marry Bankers Trust's expertise in global trading and risk-protection products with ProfitCo's business lines.

Job Began as Two Days a Week

Mr. Zakon listened, and agreed to take the planning assignment part-time. What began as a two-day-a-week job expanded within a few weeks to three days. By last year, Mr. Zakon found himself in the bank's offices four days a week, with the title of chairman of the strategic policy committee. This year, he signed on full-time.

"Somewhere along the line it dawned on me I was working five days and getting paid for three," the strategist said with a grin. Bankers Trust, he quickly added, is a wonderful place to work, because of its top executives' "attitude and flexibility."

Mr. Zakon is now a managing director in ProfitCo, the operating services and technology unit that includes fee-based businesses such as securities processing, trust, investment management, and private banking. His goal is to marry Bankers Trust's expertise in global trading and risk-protection products with ProfitCo's business lines.

Bank Selling New Products

This year, for example, the bank began selling scaled-down versions of options on foreign stock indexes, a product introduced to offshore clients of the private bank late last year. In the past two weeks the bank has sold more than $10 million of a new version of the product, linked to the Standard & Poor's 500 index.

Mr. Zakon also is pushing for ways to retain as customers the hundreds of thousands of corporate employees the bank now serves indirectly in its role as trustee and recordkeeper for employee savings plans. Mr. Zakon hinted that the bank may soon introduce a mutual-fund-related product for 401 (k) plans, a spinoff of the proprietary mutual funds the bank runs for its own portfolio.

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