Frank N. Newman says he has no regrets as he looks back on his three years as the last chief executive officer of Bankers Trust Corp.
"There's been a lot that's been accomplished," Mr. Newman said in the wake of his resignation last week. "We can justifiably be proud."
Mr. Newman, 57, stepped down less than one month after delivering Bankers Trust into the hands of Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank AG for $9 billion in cash.
Though he has been blasted by Wall Street for his management of the bank, and by the media for his reportedly lavish personal life, Mr. Newman sidestepped the criticism and talked up his accomplishments in a telephone interview.
Indeed, he was disarmingly upbeat and engaging for a man who spent most of his term avoiding interviews and shooing away reporters who approached him in public. When asked about the compensation package he is to receive from Deutsche Bank-believed to exceed $55 million-he laughed and deftly moved on to the next topic.
Mr. Newman joined Bankers Trust in the fall of 1995 after two years as deputy Treasury secretary and a prior career as chief financial officer of Bank of America Corp.
He was viewed as a squeaky-clean newcomer who could help restore the bank's image, which was tarnished in a derivatives trading scandal that occurred during former chairman Charles Sanford's term.
"When I came on board, we had just come through two very difficult years," Mr. Newman said, recalling the derivatives scandal. "The vast majority of our earnings came out of trading and derivatives then.
"Now it's more from equity (underwriting) and advisory. We built all those things."
Noninterest revenues jumped 31% in 1996 and 18% in 1997, while profits more than doubled in 1996 and rose 13% in 1997.
Mr. Newman highlighted three acquisitions during his term: Wolfensohn & Co., a mergers and acquisitions advisory firm, in 1996; Alex. Brown & Sons, a Baltimore-based investment bank, in 1997; and the European equities operations of National Westminster Bank in 1998.
"We've built a very capable mergers and acquisitions advisory team and an equities operation," he said. And "we've significantly developed the private banking business and the custody and corporate trust operations."
Still, Mr. Newman leaves behind the remnants of a 96-year-old institution mired yet again in scandal. Bankers Trust pleaded guilty to three felony counts in U.S. District Court in March and was forced to pay a $60 million fine for the misappropriation of $19 million in client funds in its securities processing unit during the mid-1990s.
Though Mr. Newman and other senior executives at Bankers Trust were not implicated directly in the matter, which occurred before their arrival at the bank, they have been sharply criticized for their handling of an internal investigation in the matter.
Mr. Newman acknowledged that the incident has left a black mark on the bank-and on his term. "It's never pleasant to uncover problems on your watch," he said. "But it's just one piece of that business. The rest of it is doing just fine."
Though Mr. Newman reduced Bankers Trust's exposure to derivatives, analysts said he did not go far enough. The Russian bond default last summer, coupled with the Asian currency crisis the previous winter, showed the extent to which Bankers Trust was vulnerable to trading in emerging markets and to risky lending.
Financially, 1998 proved disastrous. The bank had a $488 million loss in the third quarter and a $6 million loss for the year.
The Bankers Trust name has died in all but U.S. private banking-and Deutsche Bank has said it will phase that out eventually as well. Mr. Newman said he believes the bank is in good hands.
"The integration has progressed very well," he said. "We are much farther along now than we thought we would be."