On Aug. 3, the day Chase Manhattan Bank announced that it was purchasing American Residential Holding Corp., John M. Robbins Jr. called a "town meeting."
Crowded behind closed doors in a ballroom at the Del Mar Hilton near La Jolla, Calif., where the lender is based, the 500 or so American Residential employees began grilling Mr. Robbins, the chairman and chief executive, about the sale.
"We communicated. They had the right to vent and to hear from me," Mr. Robbins said. Many of the employees now face layoffs.
Was he angered by some of their questions, some of which bordered on accusative? He paused for reflection, then said, "I have great affection for the employees of this company."
It is that affection that is making the sale of the 17th-largest home-loan originator in America last year into a bittersweet affair for John Robbins.
"I have been split in two," he explained. "My shareholder side is very happy. [As for] my CEO side that founded this company, there is sadness."
As a shareholder, Mr. Robbins himself is more than just happy; he has gotten rich. Last year Mr. Robbins earned $690,257. He reaped at least $2.2 million, according to sources, when Chase bought him out.
"I am going to do just fine monetarily; that's a matter of record and that's great," he said.
But now the CEO is in what he called "a lame-duck status." His authority over the company he founded almost a dozen years ago is ending. He spends his remaining days as the company's chief presiding over daily staff meetings, providing feedback on proposed changes to Chase officials, and making himself accessible to his employees while encouraging them to polish up their resumes.
Mr. Robbins said the takeover by Chase would result in significant layoffs at American Residential but gave no figures. The servicing operation has about 180 employees, almost all of whom are vulnerable, along with some of the loan-processing staff.
The upcoming layoffs have created high stress for American Residential employees. And that has Mr. Robbins sad. "I don't think a good CEO can separate himself from years of relationships and wonderful people," he said.
Mr. Robbins started American Residential in 1983 as a unit of Imperial Savings. He sold it in 1988 to First Nationwide Bank, San Francisco, a unit of Ford Motor Co. that is itself being sold. With the car maker threatening to shut down or sell the company, Mr. Robbins and his executive management staff pooled their money to buy it out.
Mr. Robbins said Chase has shown much sensitivity and expertise during the current takeover. He said he thinks "very highly" of Chase and its executives.
Mr. Robbins is less sure about his next move. He said he is now contacted by headhunters on a daily basis "There are a lot more open positions in the industry than I was aware of," he said with a laugh. And Chase has offered him an as-yet-undefined position.
But the well-respected industry veteran may shun those options. He said he may spend the next year traveling with his wife and "return to the market when its directions are much clearer."