Roger Fitzsimonds made his name at Firstar Corp. cleaning up a troubled commercial loan portfolio in the 1980s.
Now, the 57-year-old chairman has an even bigger task at hand: cut 2,500 jobs, or 26% of the company's work force, and reduce expenses by $110 million by the second quarter next year. And he has little choice if Firstar is to avoid a hostile takeover.
"It gives us the chance to at least earn the right to stay independent," Mr. Fitzsimonds said.
Analysts said they couldn't agree more.
"Look at First Interstate," said William McGinnis, an analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co., Milwaukee.
"It will cut people even more dramatically (than Firstar)."
Although the scale of the move announced last week clearly surprised analysts, some said it remains to be seen whether Firstar will follow through.
"It's not inconsequential that he's saying this is the toughest thing he's ever done," said Ben Crabtree, an analyst with Dain Bosworth Inc., Minneapolis.
"But a lot of managements give lip service to cutting costs."
Firstar, a $19 billion-asset bank, calculates the move will boost revenues by $30 million and reduce the expense to revenue ratio to 55% from 58.2% at the end of the fourth quarter. The company is also taking a one- time $31 million charge for the first quarter this year.
So far, analysts are giving Firstar the benefit of the doubt. They note the author of the plan, Tandon Capital Associates, has a reputation as an aggressive cost-cutter.
But they also observed that although $77 million of the $110 million in cost savings will come from personnel cuts, the company hasn't yet said which jobs will be eliminated.
Some analysts, like Michael Durante at McDonald & Co. in Cleveland, believe most will come from the branches. Others, like Mr. Crabtree, predict many middle-management positions may be eliminated.
But wherever the cutbacks fall, analysts added, their impact on operations remains to be seen.
"The near-term risk is customer disruption, and that can mean revenue disruption," said Mr. Durante.