Ex-Citicorp Credit Pro Brings Strong Credentials to Fleet

Peter C. Fitts' appointment to be credit czar at Fleet/Norstar Financial Group Inc. reflects the company's movement into the upper echelons of U.S. banking.

"In July, the Bank of New England deal will make Fleet almost as large as a money-center, and they need an entirely new layer of management," said Gerard Cassidy, an analyst for Tucker, Anthony in Portland, Maine.

Extensive Background

Mr. Fitts, 50, spent 26 years at Citicorp in commercial lending and managing problem credits. He most recently oversaw credit administration in the company's North American banking units. His wide background includes negotiations during the Chrysler bailout and the International Harvester workout.

At Fleet, he will be responsible for administration and will oversee credit quality, portfolio management, and appraisals at commercial banking units in New England and New York. His mandate is to create a corporate umbrella for credit control as the Rhode Island company expands.

With the acquisition of the failed Bank of New England franchise, Fleet will add $14 billion in assets, becoming a $46 billion-asset powerhouse.

Though Fleet has undisputed leadership in its region, it must fight to stay profitable in New England's recessionary climate. Tight control of lending practices will be crucial to not becoming an unwieldy giant, analysts say.

The post of credit chief was created partly to ease government pressure on Fleet, which despite its relative health signed an agreement last year with regulators to tighten lending standards at several New England subsidiaries. Mr. Fitts will also have a hand in maintaining and selling $5 billion in bad assets of Bank of New England, which Fleet will manage for the government.

A garrulous dealmaker and workout specialist, Mr. Fitts joined the European banking group of Citicorp as a credit analyst. He transferred to the domestic operation, Citicorp Leasing, in 1974, and was made head of the unit a year later.

A Top Workout Specialist

He became head of institutional recovery management for Citibank's worldwide workout unit in 1979 and head of credit policy for the North American investment group in 1985.

Mr. Fitts had a hand in many of the major loan workout efforts at Citibank, including publicized deals to save Mattell Toy Co. and International Harvester from bankruptcy in the early 1980s.

"The name of the game [in workouts] is not to go into a bankruptcy," he says. "You have to end up with enough of the core company remaining to work your way out of the problems. Basically, you do anything you can to avoid a hard landing."

In the 1978 government bailout of Chrysler, he looked after Citibank's interests, sitting across the table from Lee Iacocca. It was a character-building episode, Mr. Fitts says.

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