Thomas W. Weisel, chief executive officer of NationsBanc Montgomery Securities, is set to launch his own merchant bank when he leaves the company this month, according to bankers here.
At least three senior Montgomery executives have already agreed to join Mr. Weisel at his new firm, which would be based in San Francisco. Included in that group is Derek Lemke-von Ammon, Montgomery's senior managing director of private placements, sources said.
Mr. Weisel has been locked in a high-profile battle with NationsBank executives over control of San Francisco-based Montgomery. He founded the firm 27 years ago and sold it to NationsBank last October for $1.2 billion.
His expected departure from Montgomery comes on the eve of NationsBank's merger with BankAmerica Corp., which is set to close Sept. 30. According to Montgomery bankers, Mr. Weisel's most likely successor is Lewis W. Coleman, a Montgomery senior managing director who co-heads investment banking.
Mr. Coleman is a 10-year veteran of BankAmerica, where he worked in both the commercial banking and capital markets arenas. His history with BankAmerica is expected to help him bridge the gap between Montgomery executives and those at the post-merger NationsBank.
The relationship appears to be in need of some repair.
The vaunted union of commercial and investment banking looked frayed last week, as bank executives hammered out the details of Montgomery's future at the combined NationsBank-BankAmerica. The meetings took place at BankAmerica's headquarters here, just three blocks from where Montgomery was holding its lavish 28th annual investment conference.
Montgomery executives groused that they had not been told what name would appear on their business cards after the banks merge, people who attended the meetings said. They complained that shoehorning the BankAmerica moniker into their name would be confusing, as until recently their crosstown rival was known as BancAmerica Robertson Stephens.
Meanwhile, bankers at Robertson Stephens-whose offices are in BankAmerica's San Francisco building-expressed relief last week that they were not part of the uncertainty at Montgomery.
BankAmerica, which bought Robertson Stephens for $540 million last year, sold the firm to BankBoston Corp. this month in a transaction valued at $800 million, including a retention package for top executives. The move was prompted by the BankAmerica-NationsBank merger deal, announced in April.
"BankAmerica made a courageous decision to spin us off," one executive said. "It wasn't the obvious decision to make. There were a lot of people at BankAmerica who thought they should let Montgomery cherry pick the best people here."
But the same executive added that Montgomery's current difficulties would not impact the firm's standing with clients.
"I would like to think that as a competitor," he said. "But Montgomery has a great franchise."
Mr. Weisel's decision to depart NationsBank mirrors one made by his counterpart at Robertson Stephens a few months ago.
When BankAmerica said it would sell the firm to BankBoston, its founder and chairman, Sandy Robertson, announced that he would break off and start a new investment bank.
The two investment bankers worked together at a predecessor firm to Robertson Stephens until Mr. Weisel, described as a charismatic athlete and modern-art patron, left to form Montgomery.
"It's deja vu all over again," one banker here said.
The rift between top executives at Montgomery and NationsBank began weeks ago when the bank decided to base its junk bond shop in its Charlotte, N.C., headquarters. When NationsBank agreed to buy Montgomery last year, it said it would leave high-yield in San Francisco.
Though Montgomery is predominantly an equities shop, it has been building a junk bond practice over the last few years. NationsBank has a much larger leveraged finance group, which would get larger when it merges with BankAmerica.
NationsBank circulated a memo last month saying that NationsBank's Thomas White would run high-yield research, sales, and trading and BankAmerica's Bob Griffin would run high-yield origination after the bank merger.
One observer said the announcement "vaporized" a job that Montgomery had offered to Carter McClelland, a Wall Street veteran who left his post as chief executive of Deutsche Bank North America in February. Mr. McClelland had agreed in June to join Montgomery as co-director of investment banking and a member of the firm's executive committee.
Mr. McClelland, who spent 21 years with Morgan Stanley before joining Deutsche Bank, did not show up for his first day of work Sept. 8.
NationsBank executives have been urging Mr. McClelland to climb on board. Montgomery bankers also say they are excited by the stature he would bring to their firm. Though bank executives say he is much closer now to joining, Mr. McClelland has remained on the sidelines.