Mergers of equals are rarely popular with investors, and last year's union of the old KeyCorp and Society Corp. has been a dud thus far. But the bank is slowly winning favor on Wall Street.

For a while it looked as though Victor Riley and Robert Gillespie had created a colossal mistake on the lake. It was October 1993 and Riley, the hands-on, retail-oriented chief executive officer at KeyCorp, had announced a merger with Society Corp., run by Gillespie--a polished corporate lender with a penchant for planning. The deal would create a $60-billion-asset bank with operations in 13 states and headquarters in Cleveland. Sadly for them, Wall Street greeted the news with a raucous round of raspberries. Even Banc One Corp. Chairman John B. McCoy complained that the deal was bad for banking. "I guess I thought we weren't going to get rave notices--but I didn't think we'd get trashed either," Riley says today.

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