A thrift president who joined Firstar Corp. three-and-a-half years ago is being squeezed out as the Milwaukee-based company reorganizes.

Robert Pieters started his banking career in 1975 as the chief financial officer of $75 million-asset Freedom Savings and Loan of Menomonee Falls, Wis. After being promoted to president in 1980, Mr. Pieters oversaw two mergers that boosted the thrift's assets to $450 million.

He sold the 16-office institution to Firstar in September 1992 and joined the $19 billion-asset bank as president of its northwest market.

Now Firstar is in the midst of a major restructuring, merging five of its banks into one, reorganizing along business lines, and cutting jobs. The 51-year-old Mr. Pieters, a former KPMG Peat Marwick partner, is one of 1,500 people who will be laid off by July 1, 1997. A total of 2,500 positions, or 26% of the company's work force, will be eliminated through a combination of layoffs and attrition.

The company is trying to reduce expenses by $110 million by the second quarter of next year.

Mr. Pieters is part of a group of 178 employees to be fired by July 1. They all work in the holding company or the lead bank in Milwaukee.

Mr. Pieters' responsibilities will be taken on by Mark Mohr, currently president of Firstar Milwaukee's east market, which includes four northeast Milwaukee branches.

"That makes sense, based on the way they're consolidating by business lines instead of geography," said Michael Durante, an analyst with McDonald & Company Securities Inc. "There are some high-level people who have gotten pink slips. The mood on the streets of Milwaukee is not that good."

"I assumed my career would be somewhat limited," Mr. Pieters said of his time at Firstar. "I enjoyed it. I wanted the experience of working with a large bank holding company, having worked for a relatively small institution in the past."

Mr. Pieters, who began his career with Peat Marwick's Milwaukee office, said he is not pursuing bank jobs. Rather, he's considering going into business for himself.

"After 21 years in the industry I've done about everything I could possibly do," he said. "If I have any regrets, it's that I'm not going to be affiliated with (Firstar) any longer."

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