Kerry K. Killinger is known in the thrift industry for his easygoing nature and his quick grasp of numbers.

But there was a time when the 47-year-own chairman of Seattle-based Washington Mutual Inc. had a reputation for tooting his own horn.

In a childhood right out of the "Music Man," the Des Moines native was a first-chair trumpet player in his high school band and a member of a highly musical family.

His father was director of the high-school band for which he played, and his brother is now music director of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus. Mr. Killinger's wife, Debbie, sat next to him in the trumpet section in high school.

But unlike many musicians, Mr. Killinger was also an astute student of business. He received bachelor's and master's degrees in business administration from the University of Iowa, graduating "with high distinction."

"My primary interest was always in investments," Mr. Killinger said in an interview late last year.

It was this interest that lead Mr. Killinger to get his first job out of college working as an investment analyst for Banker's Life Insurance of Nebraska. In 1976, he became a vice president in the Seattle-based brokerage firm Murphy Favre Inc., which in 1982 was acquired by Washington Mutual.

After the acquisition, Mr. Killinger rose quickly in Washington Mutual, becoming president and director in December 1988, chief executive in April 1990, and chairman in Jan., 1991.

"The business has changed significantly, and Kerry has got a different background," one that has helped him manage the change, said Montgomery Securities analyst Joseph Jolson, in San Francisco.

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