A recent visit to First Union Corp. headquarters, beginning with an early-morning flight down from Philadelphia, was typical of the whirlwind that post-merger life has become for P. Sue Perrotty.
Ms. Perrotty, formerly of CoreStates Financial Corp., went from a community relations task in the morning-videotaping a message encouraging employees to volunteer their time to schools-to a series of media interviews about the acquisition of CoreStates, which was completed in April. Next came a series of top-level strategic planning sessions that would stretch into the next day and include chairman Edward E. Crutchfield.
Ms. Perrotty, who was CoreStates' chief information officer and came into First Union as head of the general banking group for Pennsylvania and Delaware, has no problem with the pace.
"I am a workaholic," she said in a recent interview. "We compromise in my household," which includes a husband who used to work for CoreStates but did not stay through the acquisition.
More to the point of why First Union named Ms. Perrotty, 45, an executive vice president and member of its 43-person senior management group is that she has been through this sort of transition before, when CoreStates bought Meridian Bancorp of Reading, Pa. She managed in the process to enhance her reputation both inside and outside her places of employment.
She knows, she said, that "mergers are hard work." She is sensitive to the "tremendous emotion associated with mergers" and the bitterness that causes some employees to be "angry and want the company to hurt."
Merger-related change has been anything but painful for Ms. Perrotty. Given her gender and relative youth, she stands out as a member of a new executive generation at historically male-dominated First Union.
"She was clearly one of the very strong people at CoreStates," said Byron Hodnett, chairman of the CoreStates merger steering committee and of First Union's Florida operations. "She was too talented not to have.
"During the early stages of acquisitions, when you're working with people, it doesn't take long to figure out who is a real player and who is not as talented. She's got a whole lot of potential and a lot of years left in her career."
She brought an intimate knowledge of First Union from her former competitor's perspective.
"I have studied First Union for the last 10 years," Ms. Perrotty said. "Anybody in the retail business who has not been paying attention to First Union has just not been paying attention. This is a company that has a very clear vision and I knew this would be one of the most powerful players to contend with."
The outsider has now become the face of First Union in the old CoreStates headquarters market. Along with the branch closings and layoffs associated with the $19.7 billion acquisition, Ms. Perrotty has had to deal with a series of public relations challenges and snafus.
In one case a mailing to notify former CoreStates customers about the sale of their accounts went to several thousand of the wrong customers. Ms. Perrotty had to accept responsibility and fix the problem.
The transition to First Union is "very complex" as mergers go, Ms. Perrotty said. She views satisfying the needs of both customers and employees as a big part of her job.
Mergers she has been a part of have been boons to Ms. Perrotty's career. Two years before First Union bought CoreStates, where Ms. Perrotty as the top technology executive was earning more than $400,000 in salary and bonuses, CoreStates swallowed Meridian, where Ms. Perrotty was in charge of all consumer businesses.
"Don't ever let me in your top five," she joked. "The company gets sold."
Her experience with many aspects of retail and commercial banking and her expertise in technology were key factors in First Union's relying on her to steer the CoreStates businesses around the post-merger potholes.
Ms. Perrotty herself has had to dodge potholes-of discrimination.
She said she was barred from her first employer's management trainee program because of her sex. She was later forced to quit and find a new place to work in order to become a corporate lender, but one of her first prospects turned her away, saying he preferred to deal only with male bankers.
Ms. Perrotty, though still bitter about the snub, said she gained some satisfaction when encountering that same businessman at a recent First Union customer event. He told her he regretted the incident and congratulated her on her career ascension.
"I was always the first woman to get somewhere, anywhere," Ms. Perrotty reflected. "My career achievements are a combination of great timing, diligent hard work, and the environment. When I entered banking, the world was changing, doors were opening up ... and people were being pressured to provide opportunity."
That said, Ms. Perrotty is reluctant to hold herself out as a role model for other women. The long hours and frequent travel cut into the time available to spend with her husband and 3-year-old son.
Her devotion to career is so strong that Ms. Perrotty originally did not intend to have any children, she said. Within a week after baby Nicholas was born, she was back for a Meridian strategy session. Ms. Perrotty said she relies on a nanny, a former bank employee "7 by 24," in bank operations parlance.
Hard work has always been the norm. While in her first job out of college in the audit department of a local bank, Ms. Perrotty doubled as a waitress for two years. That was how she funded the accounting and economics study she pursued at Albright College in Reading.
"She is proud. She wants to succeed," said Samuel A. McCullough, former chairman and chief executive officer of Meridian and currently secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.
Mr. McCullough and others who have worked with Ms. Perrotty describe her as a strong leader who challenges conventional thinking.
"She has a passion for things, and people really accept and follow her," Mr. McCullough said. "She is tough to manage at times, because she is so persuasive. You sometimes say yes and think about it later and wonder if you did the right thing.
"But Sue's programs always worked."
"She doesn't waste her time with trivialities," Mr. Hodnett said. "She has a good sense of priority, good instincts, and the issues that she is concerned about are the right issues to be concerned about."
Thomas G. Strohm, a former Meridian executive who is now a competitor of Ms. Perrotty's as chief administrative officer of First Trust Bank in Philadelphia, said her straightforwardness has earned her much respect in the wider banking community.
"She wouldn't candy-coat something," Mr. Strohm said. "She was willing to step out and raise questions and confront people no matter who they were. She is by no means a 'yes' person."