Robert G. Siefers, National City Corp.'s point man on mergers, has some big shoes to fill: his own.

Last year, Mr. Siefers earned accolades for smoothly guiding the Cleveland-based banking company's acquisition of Integra Corp. Within 30 days after the deal closed in May 1996, Integra was fully converted to National City's computer systems. Cost savings exceeded projections and revenues grew during the transition period.

Now Mr. Siefers-a National City vice chairman who is also chief financial officer and "integration leader"-is steering the company's biggest acquisition to date. The $7.1 billion deal for First of America Bank Corp., Kalamazoo, Mich., unveiled Monday, would boost National City's assets by $21.7 billion, to $74.4 billion, vaulting it six notches to 13th place among bank holding companies.

Mr. Siefers, 52, knows better than anyone what's at stake for National City.

"Botch up an acquisition," he said in an interview Monday, "and you're takeover bait."

People who know Mr. Siefers said they have no doubt he can replicate his past successes.

"He's very focused and he tends to deliver on his promises," said Joseph Duwan, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. "He's well respected within the bank and within the investment community."

But observers acknowledge there are some crucial differences between the First of America deal and the acquisition of $14 billion-asset Integra.

For starters, National City is taking on more formidable competitors in First of America's territory than it faced when it acquired Integra, said James Schutz, bank analyst at ABN Amro Chicago Corp.

Whereas Integra competed primarily with two large rivals-PNC Bank Corp. and Mellon Bank Corp. in Pittsburgh-First of America does battle with a half-dozen large banks in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, he said.

National City may also face "a little head wind in getting revenue up," Mr. Schutz added, although he called bank's revenue projections conservative and its cost-cutting estimates reasonable.

Mr. Schutz said he was not surprised that National City chairman David Daberko tapped Mr. Siefers to see the merger through. He wanted to "stick with the soldier" who led the last successful campaign, Mr. Schutz said.

Mr. Siefers, who started at National City in 1971 as a management trainee, acknowledges that even highly regarded banks can run into trouble with acquisitions.

But he expressed confidence that National City will fare better."I think we have the formula down pretty well now," said Mr. Siefers, who was named a vice chairman in October. "We have a very clear focus. We do not want to interrupt the revenue stream and cost savings are very important."

He also plans to lean on a strong staff, notably J. Armando Ramirez, senior vice president in charge of strategic planning and mergers. He will be doing "most of the heavy lifting," said Mr. Siefers.

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