Fleet Financial Group broke a private banking tradition last month when it hired Doris P. Meister to run its private clients group.

Unlike other private banking executives, Ms. Meister did not move up the ranks of commercial lending. Nor is she a trust and estates attorney or a former stockbroker.

Instead, Ms. Meister is a consultant-cum-investment strategist-cum- auctioneer-cum-marketer. Though she has worked in a number of different fields as a top executive, her only direct experience in banking was as a management trainee in the late 1970s.

Still, this former chief operating officer for Christie's auction house says she is well suited for her job at the Boston-based bank.

"If you look through my career, I've been in a number of different businesses, but it was all about building businesses," she said.

Ms. Meister, a Fleet executive vice president and managing director, reports to vice chairman Gunnar Overstrom. She oversees a group that has $23.1 billion in assets under management in seven states for 25,000 clients.

Her new job involves managing an organization that has been in a state of flux that began when Fleet integrated three business lines-trust, investments, and lending-into one group.

Then, the private client businesses of two successive acquisitions- Shawmut National Corp. and the U.S. consumer banking operation of London's National Westminster Bank-were folded into the new group.

Those integrations were performed by Ms. Meister's predecessor, Michael C. Noble, a longtime Fleet executive who resigned in May to pursue a new career.

Picking up where he left off, Ms. Meister is considering setting up teams to serve specific customer segments, categorized by sources of wealth. Also, she is assigned to cross-sell the investment services of two pending acquisitions, discount brokerage Quick & Reilly and mutual fund company Columbia Management.

To do that, outsiders say, Fleet made a wise decision to recruit an executive with a multifaceted background.

"If you're going to have an integrated organization, having a professional executive as opposed to a professional product executive is desirable," said David Ross Palmer, a private banking consultant in East Falmouth, Mass.

"The person brought up through trust or private banking is a product specialist and less an expert in broad-scale business, which is needed when running a business," he added.

Beyond running businesses, Ms. Meister is adept at advancing them, according to J. Nicholas Hurd, a recruiter in the Boston office of Russell Reynolds Associates, who was not involved with her placement at Fleet.

"She helped define Christie's as an investment business, not just an art or collectibles business," he said.

One private client executive, Karen A.G. Loud, a senior vice president at Bessemer Trust Co., New York, said she was intrigued by Fleet's choice. Ms. Loud also worked for Christie's but left for Bessemer in 1990, so she did not get to know Ms. Meister.

The appointment is "fascinating," Ms. Loud said. "It'll be interesting to see how it all works out for her. I hope well."

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