Bank of America's retail banking future is in H. Eugene Lockhart's past.
Mr. Lockhart, regarded as one of the industry's most progressive and technology-savvy senior managers, would hardly be likely to wallow in past glories.
But in the five months since he joined BankAmerica Corp. as president of the global retail bank, Mr. Lockhart has drawn openly and liberally from what he learned and implemented elsewhere.
If anyone inside the San Francisco-based company were wondering where he might be taking its vast but somewhat tarnished consumer banking empire, they have learned in no uncertain terms where he is coming from.
He is in their faces, as he was with employees in past stints at Midland Bank of London and MasterCard International.
"I and my direct reports have a rule that we have to be out in the bank at least one day a week," Mr. Lockhart said in a recent interview. He has visited more than 80 branches-not insignificant in a network of 1,940-as well as 20 corporate banking centers.
He admits that he may have come on a little strong: "I am a down-to- earth person who sometimes gets too intense."
But that is part and parcel of the kind of climate he wants to create: "We want a high-performance culture that is open, honest, and direct in people's dealings with each other."
He is talking about both doing existing jobs better and reinventing the enterprise as he did in spearheading a top-to-bottom reengineering at Midland that included creation of the branchless affiliate First Direct.
He sends simply worded, forceful messages not only about strategy but also about culture and organization. Cultural change was almost an obsession in the three years Mr. Lockhart spent at MasterCard before joining BankAmerica in May.
In San Francisco, he communicated a sense of urgency at the 100-day mark by introducing a management structure that divided responsibilities along two lines: "natural markets," or geographical areas, such as California, Northwest, Southwest, Midwest; and "functional businesses," such as consumer loans, deposit and payment products, commercial banking (companies up to $500 million of sales), and private banking.
Mr. Lockhart said in an employee newsletter that "the global retail bank must reposition itself over the next three to four years to gain a greater share of our customers' business, improve our service quality, become a more vigorous and rewarding place to work, and deliver greater shareholder value."
While praising the quality of his people, he emphasized the untapped potential and the need "to become as good as I know we can be."
As much a realist as he is a master of the mission and motivational statement, Mr. Lockhart knows how big the job is.
In his cultural revolution at MasterCard, Mr. Lockhart moved its New York City headquarters to a suburb, managed by walking around and holding spontaneous cafeteria meetings, relaxed the dress code, and put 2,000 people through a soul-searching and team-building regimen.
He came to San Francisco vowing to make a similar impact, though filtering it down to 55,000 retail bank employees is something else entirely. And BankAmerica's more buttoned-up, business-suit style is probably off-limits.
But businesses and cultures are not measured by garb alone. Mr. Lockhart is more concerned about substance and tone, and he is convinced his activism can begin to make the necessary difference.
Mr. Lockhart, 47, is also saying he is in for the duration. He talks about retiring at BankAmerica and leaving behind "a more strategically efficient bank than it is now, with a much broader array of value-added services."
The teamwork he seeks in the rank-and-file also operates at the top of the bank, he said.
"Our whole team is very close," Mr. Lockhart said. He had known many of them, including chairman David Coulter, for years. He went to business school-Darden at the University of Virginia-with chief financial officer Michael O'Neill. Chief technology officer Martin Stein was a consulting client. First Manhattan Consulting Group, another career stop, gave Mr. Lockhart exposure to many different institutions and their management and cultural variations.
"They all have fundamental similarities," he said. "One is that managing change is really hard. At the same time we are focused on efficiency, we have to be increasing our share of the customer's wallet. We are also managing people and their careers. It is essential to be good at communicating.
"Second, there is the challenge to provide an ever broader array of services while meeting quarterly targets.
"I marvel at the job branch managers and assistant managers have to do. Just look at the variety and variability of things that come at them in a given day. Helping them is a major tenet of managing change. Getting fee income and revenue growth from nontraditional services is a key to all of this."
BankAmerica executives have been forthcoming about certain shortcomings. Implicit in Mr. Lockhart's statements are needs for improved service quality, customer focus, and technology upgrades.
The sets of managers reporting to him can address those, but managing that "matrix" is itself a challenge, said Andersen Consulting partner Joel Friedman, who is based in San Francisco.
"The question is, how fast do you turn around a battleship going full speed? Lockhart and Coulter are as capable as anybody to do that, but it will take time."
George Salem, bank analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co. in New York, said Mr. Coulter in a recent conversation conceded that "customer service is not as good as it ought to be" and the bank has to "clean up pieces of the retail business," such as an underperforming Texas subsidiary.
"Some businesses aren't making it, and it's not just Texas," Mr. Lockhart said. Repeating a recent American Banker quote from Mr. O'Neill, he said, "There are no sacred cows."
Yet Mr. Salem on Oct. 2 issued a glowing report on BankAmerica, reiterating his "buy" recommendation and raising his yearend target stock price from $85 to $90, $10 to $12 above the current level.
The California economy is cooking, BankAmerica stands to benefit from Wells Fargo & Co.'s customer defections, and BofA has a solid management team made only stronger by Mr. Lockhart and his extensive resume, Mr. Salem said.
"The retail bank will have net income this year of $1.6 billion, and next year $2 billion," Mr. Lockhart said. "The return on equity will exceed 18%, and for BankAmerica Corp. overall it will be 18% to 20%. Coulter has made tremendous progress."
These results afford some leeway for strategic reassessments and initiatives. Having come from MasterCard and championed smart cards, among other innovations, Mr. Lockhart said electronic payments and alternative delivery systems are "a top priority."
BankAmerica's strengths-the branches, relationships with 16 million households, a Top-10 credit card business, 7,000 automated tellers-won't hold up without a new regard for competition and technology.
"We still have almost 2,000 branches, and a lot of them are still growing," he said. "But we also have 1,000 financial relationship managers on the phone, and we plan to have 2,000 in the next couple of years.
"When you consider that at least three-fourths of BofA transactions are not face-to-face, you see that there are real issues involved in managing relationships in entirely different ways. And we are up against a lot of new competitors like technology companies that see this as a cool business to be in."