William L. Gibbs has taken pains throughout a 20-year banking career to avoid being labeled a minority banker.

Ironically, Mr. Gibbs says, that is one reason why he was chosen to run Citizens Trust Bank of Atlanta, a struggling $116 million-asset bank that is one of the nation's largest black-owned financial institutions.

Mr. Gibbs, 47, joined as president in July. He says he gained the wide-ranging experience needed to move into the executive suite by stubbornly resisting pressure to take jobs earmarked for minorities.

"Blacks get stereotyped into community affairs and minority lending, but that's not the fast track," Mr. Gibbs said in a telephone interview. "You have to be willing to say, |If this is all you have for me, this is unacceptable.'"

Mr. Gibbs previously was a senior vice president in charge of asset quality management at Atlanta-based Bank South Corp. He left because "the glass ceiling was really pinching me in," he said.

During nine years at Bank South, he managed a $378 million commercial loan portfolio and organized and managed the holding company's loan review department. With a strong track record in commercial and international lending, business development, and asset-quality management, Mr. Gibbs aspired to run Bank South's corporate lending division.

His hopes were dashed when earnings and loan quality problems forced top management to resign, and a new management team led by former C&S/Sovran Corp. executive Patrick Flynn was installed last year.

"The plums in terms of my career path had already been handed out -- mainly to C&S employees," Mr. Gibbs explained. The job he was offered -- rebuilding the small-business and commercial lending division that he had helped to create when he joined the bank in 1983 - held little attraction.

Concentration on Real Estate

Now, his skills are being put to the test at Citizens Trust, which is struggling to build earnings and upgrade a loan portfolio that is collateralized almost entirely by real estate and includes a large chunk of classified loans.

Mr. Gibbs told the directors who recruited him for the job that he envisioned Citizens Trust as a provider of high-quality financial services - not a lender of last resort.

"If they were looking to have a well-run bank that happened to be minority-owned, then I was the guy," Mr. Gibbs said.

One of his first initiatives was to shore up the loan review and asset-quality management functions.

Defining Role in the Market

Though his immediate emphasis is on controlling problem loans, Mr. Gibbs believes Citizens Trust, which was chartered in 1921, can update its old-line image and even grow by filling a void in the Atlanta banking market.

"Large acquisitions are leaving a lot of customers disenfranchised," Mr. Gibbs said. "A 71-year-old institution clearly can demonstrate stability. We can outrank the competition."

So far, Mr. Gibbs has focused on new consumer lending. A recent auto lending campaign, conducted in partnership with a local dealership, yielded 52 car loans totaling $400,000 in principal.

"It's not that I'm trying to build an auto loan portfolio - I'm just looking for diversification," Mr. Gibbs said. He plans marketing drives to increase the volume of home-improvement and small-business loans.

Mr. Gibbs began his banking career in 1972, when he moved from his native West Virginia to Indianapolis at the urging of his brother, an FBI special agent who was stationed there.

An Unusual Transition

He entered the retail training program at American Fletcher National Bank, which later became Banc One Corp.'s Indiana subsidiary. Mr. Gibbs ran a small business loan office and several branches before making "the unheard of transition from branch manager to international banking officer in 1976."

He built a loan portfolio of European-owned companies with manufacturing plants or distribution networks in the Midwest.

In January 1982, he moved to the American Bankers Association in Washington as associate director of the commercial lending and correspondent banking divisions. He maintains his links to the association as an instructor at its Stonier Graduate School of Banking.

Last year, Mr. Gibbs married Amporn Mankong, a native of Thailand who works at Bank South. He has a 14-year-old stepson, Vince.

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