The decision by First of America Bank Corp. to exit Florida is another example of how chairman and chief executive officer Richard F. Chormann is changing the focus of the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based banking company.

Long considered a takeover candidate, $21.6 billion-asset First of America has been restructuring over the past two years. It has sold nearly 30 branches in Michigan and Illinois, and cut 1,000 jobs, or 7% of its work force. It has also reorganized along four lines of business: retail, commercial, trust, and consumer finance.

On Monday it announced it would sell its $1.1 billion-asset Florida savings and loan to Barnett Banks Inc. for $160 million.

Analysts applauded the move.

"Chormann is an action-oriented guy," said Fred Cummings, an analyst with McDonald & Company Securities, Cleveland. "He's not sitting around waiting for someone to buy his company. He's being proactive in his approach. This bank wants to be a player."

Mr. Chormann, in his first year as chairman, has set out to make First of America a more profitable, efficient, and focused company. The bank has shied away from acquisitions and set its sights on higher-return businesses, including insurance, trust, and mutual funds.

First of America's earnings and stock price suffered when it entered Florida in 1994 through three acquisitions, said Tony Howard, an analyst with First of Michigan Corp., Detroit. Mr. Howard said it was necessary to sell the Florida unit to avert takeover.

Despite the prices First of America paid at the time, Mr. Chormann defended his company's initial entry into the Sunshine State.

"We were looking at the world through different eyes," Mr. Chormann said in an interview. He said First of America had hoped to do more acquisitions, but couldn't justify paying the high prices. Ultimately, the market consolidated, and First of America remained a relatively small player with a struggling franchise.

"It's a very competitive market," Mr. Chormann said. "It's more of a challenge to grow when you only have $1 billion of assets."

While the Florida operation was not losing money, it was a drag on earnings, the executive added. Looking down the road three to four years, he said he didn't see enough growth to rationalize the expense.

Mr. Chormann has set a goal of consistently earning a return on equity of at least 18% by 1999. He expects First of America to earn 16% by yearend; it is now just below that.

The Florida operation, which has 58 branches and $749 million of deposits, was earning a "single-digit" return on equity, Mr. Chormann said. Still, the company had no trouble finding a buyer, he noted.

The 14 cents per share gain from the sale would be used to reinvest in other businesses or to buy back First of America stock, Mr. Chormann said.

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