TWO MINNESOTA BANKERS ARE betting on the adage that "two heads are better than one." After the merger of Signal Bancshares, West St. Paul, and Goodhue County Financial Corp., Red Wing, is completed this year, the resulting $335 million-asset holding company will have two chairmen.

Signal's Galen T. Pate and Goodhue's R. Scott Jones will share management of the new community banking enterprise, to be called United Community Bancshares. that they have mapped out in southeastern Minnesota,

"It seemed to us over the years, for community banks to survive and prosper in the years ahead, there needed to be a more collaborative effort between community banks," said Mr. Jones, whose current bank has assets of $170 million. As co-presidents and chief executives, the two will divvy up duties based on their respective strengths and work together on acquisitions and long-term strategic planning. They aim to grow the merged bank to $1 billion of assets, primarily through acquisitions, by the year 2000.

"Offhand. I don't know of any successful dual bank presidencies -- it's not tried very often," said Philip Bromiley, a professor of strategic management at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management in Minneapolis.

But Mr. Pate and Mr. Jones say theirs may be the exception. Having been friends for more than 15 years, they know each other's quirks and management styles.

They, also have worked together in the past. When Mr. Pate was president of the Minnesota Bankers Association in 1986, Mr. Jones was treasurer. Both bankers are also founding members of the Northstar Financial Association, a group made up of community bankers who kick around ideas and issues related to the business.

The two men have spent time together outside of banking. They and their families have taken wine-tasting trips to France and Florida vactions together.

"If anybody is going to pull off [a dual presidency], it is going to be a pair of good friends who share the same motives," said Mr. Bromiley, the professor.

The bankers will consolidate such functions as data processing, credit administration, and auditing, while leaving lending authority with the company's individual banks.

Looking for Acquisitions

The executives will team up on the acquisition trail. They are looking for strong performing banks with assets ranging from $50 million to $125 million. The two current banks combined have enough capital to make several small acquisitions, but in the future the bankers plan to raise funds in the public market.

They should have no trouble finding likely targets: There are 519 banks in Minnesota with less than $100 million of assets.

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