Huntington's Rick Sellers: Technologist with a Bankroll

At a time when technologists at most banks are struggling to cut costs, Lawrence R. "Rick" Sellers has a dream job: He is bringing to fruition several multimillion-dollar projects at Huntington Bancshares Inc.

In June, Mr. Sellers was named president of Huntington Service Co., the three-year-old automation arm of the Columbus, Ohio, banking company.

Noted for a down-to-earth, straightforward management style, Huntington's technology chief recently oversaw a $20 million conversion from Unisys to IBM computers on schedule and under cost. The conversion lets the bank take advantage of inexpensive, off-the-shelf software.

Sticking to Business

Unlike many other technologists, Mr. Sellers does not spend a lot of time hyping his projects.

"It's not that we're so damned sophisticated," Mr. Sellers said. "I think a large part of our success comes about because we try to stay in touch with what the business unit wants."

Huntington, which has an annual technology budget of $42 million, is competing in a retail market against savvy Ohio power-houses such as Banc One Corp., National City Corp., Fifth Third Bancorp, and Ameritrust Corp., which is merging into Society Corp.

As services company president, Mr. Sellers, 42, is overseeing several projects that other banks might consider risky. Huntington is close to processing all its checks through an $8 million imaging system, an expensive technology that promises huge savings but is as yet unproven.

Huntington also formed a $10 million joint venture with American Telephone and Telegraph Co. to market a modified telephone for home banking, a service many banks have given up on as too difficult to market.

Over the last decade, Huntington has acquired 27 banks but has retained a homey, midwestern, feel. Employees are extremely loyal. Ralph Lockwood, Mr. Sellers' predecessor and mentor, spent 42 years with the bank. Mr. Sellers himself has spent his entire 21-year career at Huntington.

Mr. Sellers knows many of his staff of 1,000 - 300 in information systems and 700 in operations - by name. "I don't look at myself as the president; that puts me up on a pedestal," said Mr. Sellers.

"Rick's one of the best in the country," said Mr. Lockwood, from his retirement home in Tucson. "He understands what management needs, and he's a realistic thinker - he knows you have to build a foundation."

In Banc One's Mode

In the past two years, the bank has moved marketing and technology divisions closer together. Mr. Sellers works closely with William Randle, head of corporate marketing. "At Banc One, John Fisher was for many years Mr. Marketing and Mr. Technology, and he drove technology," Mr. Sellers said. "Now we've gone the way of Banc One."

At the end of October, Mr. Sellers became a regular attendee of the CEO's weekly staff meeting, where the status of major projects within the bank is discussed.

An enthusiastic golfer and Ohio State football fan, Mr. Sellers was born and raised in the Columbus area. After earning a degree in systems analysis at Miami University of Ohio, Mr. Sellers earned an MBA in night school while working full time at Huntington. He worked up through the programming ranks and, in 1985, became director of information systems. He was later groomed to take over the top spot at the new technology unit.

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