What are top executives like when they're not working? Although the men who run the nation's top banks are known to work long and hard, many of these chief executives have a more low-key approach to rest and relaxation, according to the American Banker/Heidrick & Struggles CEO survey.

"I thought they would be Renaissance men," said Emanuel Monogenis, managing partner of Heidrick & Struggles' financial institutions planning group.

"I expected the SMP to be microcosm of the Kennedy White House, inviting musicians and university professors to dinner. I expect the CEOs to take three-week National Geographic cruises to Antarctica. But these men are surprisingly moderate."

For example, among the 24 CEOs who responded to the survey, exercise is the most popular way to relax. Planned vacations came in a close second. Another popular choice is reading.

Most of the respondents said they don't compete in organized sports, but those who do play golf and tennis. Fishing was also mentioned as a pleasurable way to relax.

Low-key Approach

"The trend toward quieter, less-expensive vacations is not uncommon," said Dr. Steven Berglas, a clinical psychologist and president of the Executive Stress Clinic, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

"In the '80s we saw |work hard, play hard' but now we're seeing more nurturance. The recession is draining them. And that bias is reflected in their vacation choices."

A number of banking CEOs who were asked to comment on the survey findings confirmed the low-key approach to relaxation.

"For leisure I play tennis, play with my grandchildren, or work in my yard," said John G. Medlin Jr., the 58-year-old chief executive officer and chairman of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Wachovia Corp.

"I collect art and I like to sail, but I haven't had much time to do either," said Stephen A. Hansel, chief executive officer and president of the ailing Hibernia Corp., based in New Orleans.

Paul M. Homan, chief executive officer of First Florida Banks Inc. in Tampa, said he likes to relax by doing "anything near water" and also calls himself an avid tennis player.

The survey respondents took an average of three weeks of vacation last year. Beach areas were the most popular choices. Over one-half of participants remained in the United States, or visited the Caribbean or Mexico, rather than traveling to Europe.

Hibernia's Mr. Hansel hopes he can soon go hiking in the Ozarks or the Rocky Mountains. But since he took the helm of the $5.8 billion-asset bank last year, Mr. Hansel hasn't found any time to get away.

"I don't have any plans for a vacation, though I'm optimistic about 1993," he said. "When I get away, I like to do something physical, like hiking in mountains. But I don't ever try to be a separatist."

Likewise, First Florida's Mr. Homan hasn't had time to get away since he took over the West Central Florida bank last fall. However, in May, First Florida signed a merger accord with Barnett Banks Inc. The deal is expected to close by yearend - and Mr. Homan can almost taste a vacation.

"I've had to settle with extended weekends for the past few years," said Mr. Homan, a former senior official with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. "I try to get in some skiing or go to New York and catch up on the theater and fine restaurants. I have friends in San Francisco and children in Chicago, so I get around."

Wachovia's Mr. Medlin said he takes two weeks at the seashore in South Carolina and two weeks in Florida.

"I thought that these men, with their power and connections, would have a different profile," said Heidrick & Struggles' Mr. Monogenis. "But they are so overburdened with harsh regulators, harsh competitors, harsh shareholders. It's no wonder that for vacation they just want to head for the beach for two or three weeks."

The Printed Page

CEOs who relax by reading expressed slightly more interest in fiction than nonfiction. Their favorite authors include Tom Clancy, James Michener, Ernest Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, and Stephen King.

Wachovia's Mr. Medlin prefers to unwind with "tantalizing" nonfiction.

"I just started reading a fascinating textbook on demographics," said Mr. Medlin. "The most recent book I remember finishing was Sam Walton's autobiography."

First Florida's Mr. Homan considers himself a voracious reader.

"At any given time I've usually read most of the books on The New York Times best-seller list," he said. "I like reading history, particularly autobiographies and biographies."

Mr. Levy is a banking and finance reporter for The Tampa Tribune in Florida.

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