After 21 years as chief economist at Mellon Bank Corp., Norman Robertson steps down this week, leaving behind a reputation for wisdom and sincere concern for customers.

While many bank economists have been accused of hiding in their ivory towers, Mr. Robertson is different. His views have been widely quoted in the press, but he sees his job as more than just crystal-ball gazing.

"He has a great willingness to work with customers," said Frank V. Cahouet, Mellon's chairman and chief executive. "He gives seminars talks to boards. He has always tried to be a good banker."

Mr. Robertson, 65, has been at the Pittsburgh banking company for nearly 30. years. Although his research and forecasts are respected in academic circles, Mr. Robertson sets a tougher standard for himself, believing an economist should also contribute to a bank's bottom line.

Helping the Institution

"He has always been one of those economists who is just trying to help the bank make a buck," said his friend Robert Dederick, an executive vice president and chief economist of Northern Trust Co., Chicago.

The British-born Mr. Robertson, a graduate of the University of London, says he got his interest in practical economics by watching his father's manufacturing business. And he has kept his hands-on approach to gathering data.

So where does Mr. Robertson believe the U.S. economy is headed? Overall, he is far more optimistic than many of his academic colleagues.

No Gloom and Doom

"I tend to be bullish on America," says Mr. Robertson, who also is an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon's Graduate School of Industrial Administration.

"The gloom and doom about this country are very misplaced. American companies are better managed than they have been in decades. Companies are market-driven now, but this has not filtered down to the academics."

Mr. Robertson says he plans to remain active, and his British accent and understandable explanations of the economy will likely make him a continued favorite on the lecture circuit and as a commentator on broadcasts.

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