When Joseph Wahed turned 60 last January, he didn't expect to be work- ing for a community bank anytime soon. After 27 years at Wells Fargo & Co., he was its chief economist. And he had worked at Bank of America before that.
But when Wells suddenly announced a month later that it was eliminating its own economics staff and that of merger partner First Interstate Bancorp, Mr. Wahed barely had any hesitation.
"My wish was to work for a small bank," he said. "The more I thought of it, the more it intrigued me. Working for a small bank has a great deal of advantages. You get to know the people at the bank very quickly."
His wish just came true. Mr. Wahed, who once served as a trade delegate to Japan with current Sen. Diane Feinstein, has been retained as a consultant for San Francisco-based Pacific Bank.
And he's not alone. In recent months, almost a dozen former top executives from Wells Fargo and First Interstate have joined Pacific, a $490 million-asset private banking powerhouse, to beef up its trust and lending units. The success of Pacific Bank in attracting unemployed or disenchanted senior officials from the two banks marks a major step for a small community bank competing in the heart of Wells' territory.
"We're really having a lot of fun," said Arthur C. Rutzen, a former Wells senior executive who joined Pacific in July to start its wealth management unit. "It's really rewarding, and a great place to work. It's very attractive to other people. People can come here and make an immediate difference and be appreciated for that."
"It's probably an opportunity for the (Pacific) executives to grow this institution," said Jerry Jones, managing director of Duff & Phelps in Los Angeles. "By having well-known people on their staff as well as consultants, they'll be able to attract a better customer base."
"Getting Joe Wahed is a huge coup," said Mr. Rutzen, who recruited Mr. Wahed. "Joe is one of the most respected economists in the United States. He brings a new level of sophistication that we have been looking for."
Among Mr. Wahed's main duties will be to help Pacific's business development officers by briefing trust and bank customers on the economy and the state of the equity and bond markets. But he won't recommend specific investments or funds.
Mr. Wahed will also review economic conditions in particular geographic or product markets that Pacific is considering expanding into, and will recommend economic reports that bank officials should forward to Pacific customers.
Finally, Mr. Wahed, who considers himself an expert on the California economy and loves to give speeches to businesses and customers, will be able to continue lecturing on the circuit.
"I do not know how long it will continue, but for the time being, it's exactly what I wish," he said. "After you've worked for one company for 27 years, it's nice to see how the other side is operating."