First Nationwide Installs A Cool Hand as Retail Chief

The new retail boss at First Nationwide Financial Corp., Peter K. Thomsen, faces a daunting task: From headquarters in San Francisco, he oversees a patchwork of 263 thrift branches in 11 states - handicapped by diverse cultures and product lines, inconsistent management quality, and low market share.

"My focus will be on doing things efficiently and consistently, standardizing things that should be standardized," Mr. Thomsen said.

Analytical Approach to Major Upheavals

Consumer research, he stresses, is more important than inspiration.

Mr. Thomsen serves as executive vice president of First Nationwide Bank, flagship unit of the $27.7 billion-asset holding company. He is also chairman of three other Ford-owned thrifts in Chicago, Cleveland, and Denver.

His cool, analytical approach will be sorely tested at First Nationwide, Ford Motor Co.'s loss-plagued thrift holding company. Although First Nationwide has already sold its operations in Hawaii and Kentucky, more restructuring lies ahead. Marginal operations must continue to be sold or closed.

"It's clear that, if we had our choice, we would have the same asset size in fewer states," Mr. Thomsen said.

Born in Denmark, Mr. Thomsen's parents brought him to Connecticut when he was seven. Even at that early age, he recalls, he wanted to be an engineer or a lawyer.

The precision of these professions shows in Mr. Thomsen's approach to bank marketing. Five years ago, when he was marketing chief at Michigan National Bank, Mr. Thomsen and his staff disagreed about plans for a home-equity credit line.

Mr. Thomsen thought the line should be accessed by credit card, while his team urged check access. When market research showed that the staff approach was right and Mr. Thomsen's was wrong, he calmly accepted the verdict.

Buttoned-Down Distinction

A down-to-business marketing pro, Mr. Thomsen's resume features a master's degree in business from Harvard University, along with stints at American Express Co. and Citicorp.

At Michigan National from 1986 through 1990, Mr. Thomsen rose to president and No. 2 man at the company's biggest unit, Michigan National Bank. While at Michigan National, he managed the bank's quality-improvement program and consolidation of the bank's branch system.

Colleagues say his controlled style clashed with that of the company's hot-tempered chief executive, Robert J. Mylod. When Michigan National announced Mr. Thomsen's resignation, last October, it cited "mutual differences" between the two men.

"There was not a lot of fancy footwork about Peter," one coworker recalled.

"He wasn't concerned about his office or his car, and he didn't like politics. He was interested in focusing on the issues."

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