Then, in 1992, he moved to New Orleans to take over the deeply troubled Hibernia Bank. He quickly performed a restructuring and got the bank back on its feet. But jinxed it was. Last year, despite or because of Hansel, Hibernia began running into serious loan problems again. Despite Hansel's reputation, and his constant efforts to place Hibernia among the top ranks of America's banks, the CEO found himself mired in a bayou, ultimately eaten up by a Louisiana alligator.

The $16.2 billion-asset Hibernia's fourth-quarter results were the final gulp. The bank warned at the end of December that the company would earn only about 10 cents a share, less than a third of the 34 cents that Wall Street had been expecting. The drag was created by a $70 million loan-loss provision, with nonperforming loans reaching $90 million.

The bank is a strange one. The press release making the departure announcement resembled a tabloid newspaper. The headline screamed: "HANSEL RESIGNS AS HIBERNIA'S C.E.O.; BOYDSTUN NAMED SUCCESSOR."

Were they that glad he left? But the release pointed out that Hansel led "the company through a successful recapitalization followed by an era of expansion that saw assets quadruple and the company emerge as the market leader in Louisiana and in the company's East Texas markets."

"We know he'll be an asset wherever he goes," said Robert H. Boh, the company's chairman. Then why did they fire him?

Hansel made clear he's looking for a new job. "I'm proud of the value Hibernia people have created through growth and improved financial performance since my arrival," he said in the press release. "I've been privileged to have been part of leadership teams which built two great bank-centered financial services companies--Hibernia and Barnett Banks of Florida--and I hope to find a similar opportunity."

It is likely that Hansel's successor, J. Herbert Boydstun, will have narrower ambitions. Boydstun--unlike Hansel, whose out-of-state loans were largely responsible for the bank's troubles--has stayed close to home. He has been Hibernia's chief community banking executive.

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