National Corp., he came with recent experience turning around troubled institutions. In 1990, he tried to save Southeast Banking Corp. of Miami, which was reeling from a bottomed-out real estate market. Two years later, he successfully engineered the sale of Lincoln Financial Corp. to Norwest Corp., after another fix-it job. Now the man who was hired in 1993 to help resuscitate Michigan National hopes that with the backing of the bank's new Australian parent, he can run a successful company that's not constantly on the defensive. In an interview this week, the 50-year-old replacement for former chief executive Robert Mylod said his goal is to make Michigan National one of the top 10 bank card processors in the United States, from its current position as No. 15. (Mr. Mylod remains as a non-management chairman of the bank). Mr. Ebert also said there's no reason why the bank shouldn't expand. "We don't want to remain as an $8.5 billion institution in the state of Michigan," he insisted. Just a week after Melbourne-based National Australia closed its $1.5 billion purchase of Michigan National, Mr. Ebert has a myriad of other plans for the Farmington Hills-based bank. He said he wanted to increase assets under management from its current $1.6 billion and bolster the sale of mutual funds. And he wants to refocus the bank's loan portfolio from its traditional concentration in commercial loans to consumer assets. Mr. Ebert said the bank hopes to increase consumer loans from 30% of the total loan portfolio to 50%. To attract small business customers, Michigan National recently launched a statewide sales campaign, sending dozens of employees to call on current and prospective customers. A similar blitz is planned for December in Detroit, when 400 Michigan National staffers, including Mr. Ebert and other senior executives, will knock on doors. The strategy is a natural extension of Mr. Ebert's belief that Michigan National has a lot of growth potential in the state as well as outside it. He said Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, Holland, Kalamazoo and Detroit are all target markets. Analysts said they are thrilled with the changes. "The old Michigan National, quite frankly, was mismanaged," said James M. Schutz, senior banking analyst for Chicago Corp. "During a period of time when banks were reporting record profits, its profits were terrible." Mr. Schutz said he expects the new Michigan National to be an aggressive acquirer. "I wouldn't be surprised if an announcement is made within a year," he said. Although Mr. Ebert said his dream of being CEO of a bank with growth potential has come true, his position isn't exactly autonomous. He reports to Don Argus, National Australia's chief executive. And National Australia has installed some of its own officers at its new U.S. unit. While Mr. Ebert says his management team is primarily local, he shrugs off the presence of five Australian executives, including Alan Frankenburg, the newly appointed chief operating officer. "Considering the fact we have 3,600 people, having five people from NAB is not that many people," he said. "Obviously, internally we'll have to get certain approval levels," Mr. Ebert said. "The biggest difference for me comes from the perspective that my boss is going to be 12,500 miles away."
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