As president of retail banking for KeyBank, Jack L. Kopnisky was not the likeliest candidate to oversee the post-merger integration of McDonald & Company Investments Inc.

Executives a bit lower down on the totem pole usually do the heavy lifting of melding cultures and systems.

"They are either not broad-based enough or (are) prejudiced by their backgrounds," said Mr. Kopnisky, citing research by McKinsey & Co., which worked with KeyCorp on the integration of the 1,700-person investment management firm that was acquired in the summer.

Mr. Kopnisky brought a top executive's big-picture perspective. He had the rare distinction of having worked in retail banking, wholesale and investment banking, and insurance - but lacked experience in managing mergers.

The McDonald integration took place from July 1 to Dec. 1. Now Cleveland-based KeyCorp is moving toward its 1999 revenue goal of $1 billion from investment banking and related activities.

"We set very stringent financial objectives," Mr. Kopnisky said in an interview last week during an American Banker conference in Orlando. "All the work is for naught if we're not driving incremental revenue."

Objectives were agreed upon by 15 teams, representing all the departments and staffed equally by Key and McDonald officials. The teams met regularly with a board consisting of three executives from Key, three from McDonald, and Mr. Kopnisky as overseer.

The board met weekly to approve and debate goals and track progress.

Another part of Mr. Kopnisky's job was to encourage McDonald investment bankers and Key relationship managers to work together in serving corporate clients.

"They are 'cross-incented' to support each other," he said. "By pulling together, they both end up with more."

Thanks largely to the McDonald acquisition, Key boosted fee income to 37% last year from 30% in 1997. It expects to hit 44% this year and approach, if not achieve, a long-standing objective of 50% by the end of 2000.

Last week McDonald an-nounced the opening of its first international office, in London.

Mr. Kopnisky, who came to Key 11 years ago by way of Ameritrust Co.'s retail bank in Cleveland, was assigned to Key's brokerage business in 1995. "Jack did a spectacular job of getting our securities operations in place," said KeyCorp chairman and chief executive officer Robert Gillespie.

Mr. Gillespie said the skills Mr. Kopnisky exhibited in nurturing a retail sales culture in the Cincinnati area were just what the brokerage business - "ragtag" at that time - needed.

Common elements in the Key and McDonald cultures proved a critical element of success, Mr. Kopnisky said. Besides being based only two blocks from each other, the organizations shared a one-stop-shopping philosophy.

Their ability to communicate and cooperate "ended up being much better than I thought it would be," Mr. Kopnisky said. "Logic prevailed."

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