Donald R. Hollis may be one of the longest-surviving bank technology czars, but he is no anachronism.

While the single high-level executive responsible for everything technological may have gone out of fashion, or fallen victim to internal politics, Mr. Hollis has held on as First Chicago Corp.'s top information officer for more than a decade.

And he has led First Chicago into the industry's top echelons in back-office automation, quality, and cost-effectiveness, according to a broad consensus of people familiar with the corporate services for which, Mr. Hollis takes primary responsibility.

A Team Player

Mr. Hollis, 57, has weathered management changes and turf battles, emerging as what may be the model for the chief information officer of the 1990s - equal parts businessman and technician, a team player who keeps his ego firmly in check.

"The remarkable thing about Don Hollis is that he's survived," said Jay Gaines, who heads an executive search firm specializing in technology talent for major corporations. "In the small clique of chief information officers, he's looked on with reverence."

But "he's not an activist," added Mr. Gaines. "That may have helped his success - he doesn't try to reinvent the world."

Nor does it hurt that the units Mr. Hollis runs - cash management, trade services, and securities, in addition to corporate data processing and telecommunications - are profit centers. The businesses generate substantial revenues for the corporate bank, and securities analysts expect them to grow significantly.

Enjoys the Nuts and Bolts

Mr. Hollis says he is a banker first and a technologist second. But it is clear he enjoys the nuts and bolts. Over the past two weeks he has been in Australia doing what he likes most, visiting customers and touting the bank's newest cash management product, FirstWindow 2000.

The product is among the first to allow corporations to initiate funds transfers and review accounts using Windows software from Microsoft Corp.

"Don knows technology very well," said First Chicago Trust Co. president Andrew J. Lynch, who for several years reported to Mr. Hollis. "He's a very conscientious manager without being overbearing - he doesn't try to micromanage all those commodity businesses."

First Chicago, the parent of First National Bank of Chicago, is the nation's 10th-largest banking company, with $53 billion of assets.

Diversification a Strength

Wall Street gives the bank high marks for diversification. It is the leading consumer and middle-market bank in Chicago, and retains its historical reputation as a money-center corporate bank, of which it is the largest outside of New York.

Cash management has been a steady performer for First Chicago. The bank doesn't report the revenues or profitability of its individual business lines. But Mr. Hollis said that in 1992, his units generated about a third of the total revenue of the wholesale bank and twice the revenue of corporate lending. By 1995, he estimates, the units will contribute 3 1/2 times as much as corporate lending.

Rising to the Top

According to a recent study by Ernst & Young, First Chicago's revenues will grow more than 7% in 1993, or almost 1 1/2 times the expected 5% average growth rate for the top 20 providers of cash management services.

Mr. Hollis has overseen cash management and information services since arriving at First Chicago in 1981 after his former Chase Manhattan colleague Barry Sullivan became chairman there. Since then, Mr. Hollis has risen to executive vice president, one of the three top executives in the corporate bank.

During Mr. Hollis' tenure at First Chicago, his low-key but no-nonsense approach to technology has remained a constant. For example, in 1990 he appointed Mr. Lynch, who was then head of strategic planning and had no technology experience, to head data processing, just as the bank embarked on a major systems consolidation.

"Don thought it would be good to have someone who wanted to get it done, rather than someone who would debate what was the best equipment to use," said Mr. Lynch, who now heads one of the top transfer agents in the country.

Said Mr. Hollis, "the key to shortening product cycles is to move people" back and forth between marketing and technology areas.

Eye on the Ball

He has refrained from entering operating-services businesses unrelated to core banking. He decided against offering general data processing services, he said, because he was afraid it would distract his staff's attention from the bank's customers.

Mr. Hollis won a scholarship to study engineering at Tulane University, but later became a business major, finishing his undergraduate degree at Kent State.

He also pursued graduate studies in finance at San Francisco State University and Case Western Reserve University while working, but never found time to finish a graduate degree.

Mr. Hollis said he "backed into" the technology field in its pioneering period. He was hired in 1959 by an electronics firm to help solve problems related to an acquisition. "We turned to data processing as the necessary solution," Mr. Hollis said.

He was promoted to the senior technology job at the firm, which in 1967 merged with Smith Corona to become SCM Corp. Recruited by Chase in 1971, he held a variety of technology-related positions there.

Mr. Hollis attributes his success to close attention to quality control and costs.

Realized the Limitations

In the early 1980s, he said, "We realized we couldn't always be the lowest-cost provider, because we were competing with banks four or five times our size.

"And we realized we couldn't be the first to market with every product - no one had ever done that, so that seemed presumptuous," Mr. Hollis continued.

What the bank could do, he explained, was exercise tight control over customer service. In the early 1980s, First Chicago installed systems to track customer inquiries and resolutions in cash management. Now the program is used throughout the corporate bank, and is expanding to credit cards, trading, and the middle-market bank.

A bankwide cost-cutting program, he said, has brought down First Chicago's overhead ratio - the percentage of income consumed by operating expenses - to 57% as of Sept. 30, from 63% a year earlier.

Mr. Hollis, who commands a budget of nearly $100 million, close to half the corporation's annual technology budget, has played his part.

Lowest-Cost IBM Shop

A study by Real Decisions, a Darien, Conn.-based consulting firm which keeps a data base on the computer expenses of 300 large U.S.-based multinational corporations, found that First Chicago was not only one of the lowest-cost users of computers in the data base, but also the lowest-cost IBM shop in the country.

Mr. Hollis said First Chicago runs its operations for a third of what an outsourcing vendor would charge.

After a decade running technology and cash management, would Mr. Hollis like to move on? No, he says.

He is most excited by the potential to shorten product cycles by using object-oriented programming, a technology that his staff is experimenting with to speed system development. He also is interested by the potential for wireless communications to reduce telecommunications costs.

"I think I'm doing the job that maximizes my abilities," he said.

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