Great Western Financial Corp. placed the head of its mutual fund subsidiary on administrative leave Monday, sources close to the thrift said.

F. Brian Cerini, president and chief executive of Sierra Capital Management, is considered the architect of the Chatsworth, Calif.-based thrift's mutual fund strategy.

The move reportedly culminated growing tensions between Mr. Cerini and his boss, William Schenck 3d, a Great Western executive vice president with broad responsibility for retail activities.

Mr. Cerini did not return phone calls Monday, and Great Western declined to discuss the matter, citing company policy against commenting on personnel issues. The terms of the administrative could not be learned.

But observers said Mr. Cerini's role in a recent attempt by management to buy out the fund management business, coupled with a string of lawsuits that have piled up against the thrift's brokerage and management arms in recent years, may have led to Monday's action.

Last October, Great Western put Sierra Capital-the asset management unit for the $3.2 billion-asset Sierra Trust Funds-on the auction block.

Mr. Cerini's management team seemed to have had the inside track on the acquisition until February, when Great Western-having just struck a deal to be bought by Washington Mutual Inc.-said it was withdrawing the unit from sale. (Great Western is also the object of a hostile takeover bid by H.F. Ahmanson & Co.)

In addition to his role as CEO of the asset management company, Mr. Cerini is also chairman of the Sierra Trust Funds.

It was unclear whether he would be able to continue in that role; one observer noted that the chairman is technically selected by shareholders, not by the asset manager.

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