Some executives might be tempted to relax after a chancy bank rescue, but not Oklahoma oilman George B. Kaiser. Having done the impossible, he is now happily tackling the difficult.

In his largest expansion since buying the then-languishing Bank of Oklahoma from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Mr. Kaiser agreed last month to buy 19 branches and $520 minion of deposits from Sooner Federal Savings and Loan Association, Tulsa. The deal is part of Mr. Kaiser's plan to build a retail franchise and wean Bank of Oklahoma from a reliance on commercial loans.

Neither the deal nor the strategy are slam dunks.

For starters, Mr. Kaiser obtained only deposits in the Sooner deal, meaning the new franchise initially won't provide any loan portfolio diversification. What's more, muscular new market entrants Fourth Financial Corp., Wichita, Kan., and Boatmen's Bancshares Inc., St. Louis, are targeting the very consumers Mr. Kaiser aims to win.

Sounds daunting - unless you consider the odds Mr. Kaiser already has overcome. Since buying the $2 billion-asset Bank of Oklahoma from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in June 1991, the Tulsa native has doubled the company's profitability to a 1.27% return on assets. Commercial loans are up 19.3%, realty loans 26%, and consumer loans 23%.

"We've been one of the most dynamic banks in the marketplace," says Mr. Kaiser, 50, whose banking career began last year when, as new majority owner, he assumed the posts of chairman and chief executive of parent company BOK Financial Corp. The part-time banker also is president and owner of Kaiser-Francis Oil Co.

The multimillionaire credits much of Bank of Oklahoma's initial turnaround success to homecomings by multitudes of local people and businesses that had shied away during the bank's troubled years. Realty loan growth, Mr. Kaiser said, came as the bank financed purchases of distressed properties sold by the Resolution Trust Corp. and insurance companies.

A Tough Assignment

Mr. Kaiser concedes that he and other officers "clearly will have our work cut out for us" in stirring further consumer loan demand.

His point man in the brewing battle with Boatmen's and Fourth Financial is Norman Smith, the executive vice president for retail lending, who formerly worked for Ameritrust Corp., Cleveland. Retail loans equal roughly 25% of commercial loans at Bank of Oklahoma now; Mr. Smith's job is to bring that ratio to 100%.

Mr. Kaiser's success formula is getting in on the action early, when "most people are skittish." His view of buying at the bottom of the market: "I have the patience and the capital to wait for time when the assets are more attractive."

Local Ownership a Goal

Does that mean Mr. Kaiser will auction off Bank of Oklahoma after its franchise is rebuilt? Yes and no. Mr. Kaiser does indeed hope to work himself out of a majority ownership position. But he hopes to do so through stock-swap transactions and secondary offerings. If all goes well, the bank's stocks will go into the hands of many regional investors, who will perpetuate local ownership.

"I was not interested in banking per se and would not have acquired ... an entity in Omaha or Dallas " said Mr. Kaiser.

Operationally, Mr. Kaiser already is delegating quite a bit of management authority to president and chief operation officer Stan Lybarger, who apparently stands a good chance of becoming chief executive when Mr. Kaiser confines his role to that of chairman.

In the meantime, Mr. Kaiser appears to be having fun in his new career as a banker. Aside from the Sooner deal, Mr. Kaiser has bought a mortgage company, parts of a failed thrift in Oklahoma City, and a small trust company - all since June 1991. He says he has made more than 100 customer calls in Oklahoma City alone and stands ready to do even more "at a moment's notice."

Motivating a Bureaucracy

The executive's expansion strategy is to buy units that fill gaps in the company's current operations, to enter a few more smaller towns in Oklahoma, and to add fee-based businesses.

This entrepreneur reports little difficulty coping with the dense regulation of the banking industry but says he is working to quicken Bank of Oklahoma's corporate bureaucracy.

"Every time I'm involved in a meeting, or a decision, or a casual visit, I try to express a sense of excitement, a sense of intensity and urgency," says Mr. Kaiser, whose mile-a-minute responses mirror his management philosophy. "I've tried to modify the corporate culture to be more entrepreneurial and a little less oriented around policies, committees, and blame-sharing."

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