James S. Marpe can quickly identify the birthplace of his interest in the banking business: his hometown of Canton, Ohio, also the source of most of the nation's bank vaults.
"Several of my friends' fathers worked for Diebold when it made nothing but safes and vaults," said Mr. Marpe, Andersen Consulting's new banking industry director for the Northeast.
"I can still remember my dad taking me to a bank in Ohio when I was 5 or 6 years old and allowing me to shut the vault door."
Big Players as Clients
While his precocious brush with banking didn't lead to a job with a bank, Mr. Marpe has spent his entire professional life serving financial institutions. In his new position. Mr. Marpe will continue that practice.
The Andersen unit he now heads specializes in identifying new growth areas for retail financial services and suggesting ways for banks to avail themselves of that growth.
Based in New York, the clientele of Andersen's Northeast banking practice includes many of the nation's largest financial institutions, including Chemical Banking Corp., Bankers Trust New York Corp., and Citicorp.
The unit specializes in system integration and process reengineering projects. Under Mr. Marpe's direction, its retail delivery systems consulting practice may also prove significant.
"I think that, after some stalling, we are now seeing banks preparing themselves for the next generation of banking customers," he said.
"The channels that banks use to deliver their products are going to have to be chosen very carefully in the upcoming years."
A large portion of Andersen's consulting vision centers on persuading banks to focus on their core competencies. The company works with banks to identify business lines that are ripe for either outsourcing or a strategic partnership with another bank.
Mr. Marpe intends to continue that focus in the Northeast region. However, he does not plan to delve into his new job without making any changes.
For example, the Andersen practice of promoting from within the company may be curtailed a bit in the upcoming years. "One of my goals is to build this practice through experienced hiring," he said.
While Mr. Marpe recognizes the social and organizational benefits of drawing from a pool of employees already familiar with Andersen culture, he also sees a benefit to hiring employees with alternative work experiences and points of view.
"We've got to make sure that we are not encouraging inbreeding at the expense of new ideas coming from the outside," he said.
Mr. Marpe himself is a beneficiary of Andersen's paternalistic employment habits. He came to the consulting arm of Arthur Andersen & Co. in 1970, fresh from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with a graduate degree in marketing.
His entire career has been with Andersen, participating in over 100 bank consulting projects in locations from Chicago to Copenhagen.
While Mr. Marpe is optimistic that he can carry over some of his past success to his new job, there are some things he wants to leave behind.
Specifically, he hopes to escape the cloud of bad economic tidings that has followed him on nearly every stop in his career.
When Mr. Marpe was made a partner in Chicago in 1982, the Midwest was in the midst of a severe recession. Within two months of his arrival in Copenhagen in 1986, the economy in Denmark hit the skids. And upon his return to New York in 1989, the Big Apple's financial services sector was still reeling from one of its worst recessions ever.
"I've been a leading indicator of recessionary economics in many regions," Mr. Marpe joked.
"I hope this current promotion is not indicative of recurring problems in the financial services arena in the Northeast."