When SunTrust Banks Inc. chairman L. Phillip Humann presided over his first annual shareholders meeting April 21, he downplayed speculation that his rise to the top might steer the Atlanta-based company in a new direction.

Three months later, Mr. Humann has SunTrust in the merger-and- acquisition limelight.

After a warm-up deal in June in which it agreed to buy a small Florida bank, SunTrust made a loud, $9.5 billion statement Monday by agreeing to buy $26.2 billion-asset Crestar Financial Corp. of Richmond, Va.

SunTrust-the product of a pioneering 1984 interstate merger agreement between Sun Banks of Florida and Trust Company of Georgia-had not done a significant deal in more than a decade as its major southeastern competitors bulked up around it.

To be sure, SunTrust's newfound dealmaking is not solely attributable to Mr. Humann's ascent to chairman. Shareholder pressure amid a rapidly consolidating industry is as much a prod as Mr. Humann's strategic vision.

Nonetheless, it is this 52-year-old executive who will call the shots as SunTrust ventures into new geographic territory. A 29-year SunTrust veteran, Mr. Humann is winning praise both outside the bank and from within for his hands-on, enthusiastic management style.

Crestar chairman and chief executive Richard G. Tilghman, 57, is every bit Mr. Humann's peer, with a lifetime of service to a single organization. Mr. Tilghman joined Crestar, then United Virginia Bankshares, in 1966, following service in the U.S. Army. He became chairman in 1987.

The two men are seen as compatible in that they are very loyal to their respective companies' heritages and identities and sensitive to the disruption that mergers can wreak on communities and customers.

"These are gentlemen," said Charles Wendel, president of Financial Institutions Consulting Inc., New York. "The senior management at SunTrust is being sensitive to the community and to Crestar senior management. They are simply nice people. They aren't going to come in and slash and burn."

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