NationsBank Looks to Two Rising Stars

ATLANTA - As heir-apparent to the chief executive's post at C&S/Sovran Corp., Dennis C. Bottorff's career was roaring down the fast track. But, as of this week, his velocity has slowed - and markedly so.

Mr. Bottorff, 47, will surely get the chance to put his imprint on the merger of NCNB Corp. and C&S/Sovran. But his chances of getting into the chief executive's seat anytime soon at the merged entity, NationsBank, seem distant at best.

Autocratic NCNB chairman Hugh McColl is only 56 years old - far from retirement age. On top of that, Mr. Bottorff is no longer a favored only son. He stands among a cadre of talented executives that rank near the top of NationsBank.

But Mr. Bottorff sounds unconcerned. From the start, he has supported the merger, even though it might hurt his career in the short term. He told Mr. McColl during negotiations that the NCNB chieftain should have complete "flexibility" in finding roles for him and other top C&S/Sovran officers.

But having been named to the five-man operating team at NationsBank, Mr. Bottorff's career prospects look solid, if no longer meteoric.

One thing is clear: Mr. Bottorff does not intend to repeat mistakes he made in trying to gently meld C&S with Sovran.

In an interview Tuesday, he said C&S/Sovran's "merger of equals" approach was flawed, adding: "You really need to be able to move more quickly, get the synergies faster, and that can come faster through an acquisition," where one of the two partners is clearly in charge.

Mr. Bottorff is the son of a contractor who earned an engineering degree at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

After earning an MBA at Northwestern University, Mr. Bottorff joined Nashville's Commerce Union Bank in 1968 and rose rapidly through the ranks. By 1982, he was president and chief operating officer.

Cleanup for Commerce Union

At that time, Commerce Union was one of the worst-performing large banks in the South, But Mr. Bottorff made a name for himself by reorganizing Commerce Union and cleaning up its loan portfolio. By 1987, when Norfolk-based Sovran Financial Corp. came calling, Commerce Union was operating at a 1.22% return on assets, compared with 0.5% in 1982.

The terms of the acquisition gave seats to Mr. Bottorff and five other Commerce Union board members on the Sovran board. Mr. Bottorff became a Sovran vice chairman.

By April 1988, when the Sovran board met to choose a new president and chief operating officer, Mr. Bottorff had won the allegiance of enough Sovran directors to capture the post. Then, when Sovran merged last year with Atlanta-based Citizens and Southern Corp., Mr. Bottorff became C&S/Sovran's heir-apparent.

As president and chief operating officer of C&S/Sovran, Mr. Bottorff had primary responsibility for merging the two banks. Analysts complained about C&S/Sovran's failure to cut expenses; and Mr. Bottorff received much of the blame.

This time around, he aims to do things differently.

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