Michael J. Zamorski is really experienced with bad news.
As deputy director of supervision for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Mr. Zamorski's has earned a reputation as the Grim Reaper during his nearly 20 years of working around the country for the agency. He has handled money laundering cases in Florida, the agricultural crisis in the Midwest, and the oil bust in Texas.
"He has had a great background in a variety of situations," said Andrew C. Hove Jr., the FDIC's acting chairman. "He has a great knowledge of bank supervision both in good times and bad."
That experience with some of the agency's worst disasters combined with a self-effacing manner and a reputation for good judgment could catapult him to the agency's highest ranks.
The 42-year-old Mr. Zamorski is expected to succeed his boss Nicholas J. Ketcha Jr., who will retire as director of the FDIC's supervision division at the end of 1998.
Mr. Hove declined to say whether Mr. Zamorski is indeed the front- runner, but he has the unqualified support of his boss.
"I would offer my recommendation if it was solicited from the board," said Mr. Ketcha, who described Mr. Zamorski as his "alter ego." "I am very comfortable having him stand in my stead when I am not here."
Mr. Ketcha and Mr. Zamorski ran the agency's New York office together for six years before taking their jobs at agency headquarters in early 1996.
Until recently, the two lived near Princeton, N.J., and discussed business during their seven-hour round-trip commute every weekend. But Mr. Zamorski, laying plans eventually to become supervision director, in July moved his family to the Washington area.
A Philadelphia-area native, Mr. Zamorski worked for a bank after graduating from Villanova University. Then in late 1977 he joined the FDIC as an examiner trainee in Harrisburg, Pa. The agency quickly became his career-and his moving company. Mr. Zamorski worked in seven cities during an eight-year span of the 1980s.
No experience left more of an impression than his stint in Dallas from 1986 to 1989 as assistant regional director. He arrived just as plummeting oil, gas, and real estate markets triggered a meltdown of the Texas banking industry. The Dallas FDIC office, woefully understaffed at first, oversaw two to three bank failures a week at the peak of the crisis, Mr. Zamorski said.
"It was very stressful," he said. "We were trying to put our finger in the dike, and maybe nine different leaks sprung, then the dike would cave in."
Outsiders who have worked with Mr. Zamorski give him high marks. "He is very well-respected, well-regarded within the FDIC," said Neil D. Levin, New York's former banking commissioner. He described Mr. Zamorski as smart and pragmatic.
"What Michael in my view has always shown is a sense of balance, a willingness to listen," said H. Rodgin Cohen, a partner at the New York- based Sullivan & Cromwell law firm.