Firstar Corp. has tapped a veteran executive to rebuild its investment business after the departure of a key account.

Last week the Milwaukee banking company named Bruce Laning president and chief executive of Firstar Investment Research and Management Co.

Mr. Laning, 40, succeeds Mary Ellen Stanek who, after 21 years with the investment advisory unit, left for a senior post at Baird Investment Advisors, a unit of Robert W. Baird Inc. in Milwaukee.

The departure of Ms. Stanek, along with four fixed-income managers who followed her to Baird, prompted the city of Milwaukee last week to pull its $298 million bond account from Firstar.

A spokesman for Firstar said Mr. Laning's unit plans to rebid the business. Mr. Laning came to Firstar in 1989 as a senior investment officer for its trust company in Illinois. He joined Firstar Investment Research and Management in 1993, with responsibility for Iowa operations. Last October, he was named senior vice president and senior portfolio manager for operations in Milwaukee.

Firstar's sales culture will be tapped to increase assets under management, Mr. Laning said. The investment unit is counting on growth through third-party fund sales, as well as through referrals from tellers and corporate lenders, he said.

"The retail network can channel business to our brokerage operation," he said.

Mr. Laning said he is also counting on fund performance to attract investors. "We plan on expanding our base by aggressively managing our portfolios," he said, and the company also plans to add mutual fund portfolios, though its lineup is already pretty comprehensive.

Firstar runs several independent families, including the Firstar Stellar Funds, with $5 billion of assets under management; the Firstar Funds, with $6.8 billion; and the Mercantile Funds, with $3.5 billion.

However, the company is looking for ways it could bring the funds under one umbrella without disrupting shareholders or disturbing established sales approaches, Mr. Laning said.

Firstar continues consolidating the money management operations it has acquired in the recent years' deals.

The company's latest move, in January, was to consolidate its capital management division into Firstar Investment Research and Management. The Cincinnati-based capital management unit, which manages the Firstar Stellar Funds, now shares resources, including research and back-office services, with Firstar Investment Research. None of the unit's five portfolio managers or its support employees was let go, Mr. Laning said.

That move came after steps last fall by Firstar to absorb Mississippi Valley Advisors, the money management arm of Mercantile Bancorp in St. Louis, which Firstar bought last September.

The consolidation moves should benefit Firstar's bottom line, one analyst said.

"This looks like an expense play on their part," said Diana Yates, a banking analyst at A.G. Edwards & Co., St. Louis.

Ms. Yates also said management of the operations should benefit. "It's a move to increase efficiency and have more control from a marketing standpoint," she said.

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