Last year, Edward M. Carson's turnaround plan paid off at First Interstate Bancorp. Along the way, the Los Angeles bank company and its 64 year-old chief finally won a little respect.

Led by dramatic improvements in capital, credit, and efficiency, operating earnings are up sharply. Despite a punishing recession in its home market, the company recorded a 1.11% return on assets for the period.

Hardly anyone expected such a result when the gangly, softspoken Mr. Carson - a 39-year First Interstate veteran in the twilight of his career took the place of forceful chairman and CEO, Joseph J. Pinola.

Crippled by loan problems and a sprawling, loosely controlled banking empire, First Interstate seemed ripe for a takeover. Mr. Carson was written of as a caretaker. But he overhauled the company's culture and focused it on its western retail and middle market franchises.

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