Preparing for a new growth surge with an international dimension, First Financial Management Corp. has created a six-member office of the chairman.

The move reflects the information and transaction processing conglomerate's plans to "extend its distribution network, further penetrate its markets, and accentuate its broad base of services," said Patrick H. Thomas, chairman, president, and chief executive officer.

The Atlanta-based company made nine acquisitions last year and had a 25% increase in revenue, to $2.2 billion, and is now running at a $3 billion annual rate. It is best known to bankers as the parent of National Bancard Co., known as Nabanco, the largest processor of credit card payments for retailers.

First Financial also owns TeleCheck Services Inc., a leader in the check guarantee business, and, as of last year, Western Union Corp. and its vast network of retail sales agents.

Western Union's president and chief executive officer, Robert J. Amman, was one of four executives Mr. Thomas elevated to vice chairman. The others, in order of seniority, are:

* M. Tarlton Pittard, who has been with First Financial Management since 1986, most recently as senior executive vice president, chief administrative officer, and treasurer.

* Stephen D. Kane, formerly senior executive vice president, chief administrative officer, and secretary. He joined the company in 1988 with the acquisition of Endata.

* Richard D. Jackson, formerly senior executive vice president and chief operations officer. He joined in 1989 following the acquisition of Georgia Federal Bank, which has since been sold.

Also installed in the office of the chairman was Randolph L.M. Hutto, senior executive vice president. He was hired in 1992 as executive vice president and general counsel.

The company said it has 327,000 institutional customers, including retailers, manufacturers, and financial institutions. Western Union - its biggest acquisition, which it won in a bidding war with First Data Corp. - added a 24,000-agent worldwide network that serves 55 million consumers.

"Western Union gives them a tremendous entree outside of the U.S.," said Richard Bove, an analyst with Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg, Fla. "It's got the pull of a name like McDonald's or Coca-Cola. You go to 90 countries around the world and mention Western Union, and chances are most people have heard of it. FFMC can certainly take advantage of this."

Mr. Bove said the desire to broaden the company's reach was probably what moved Mr. Thomas to create a the top-level executive office.

"This company has always been a one-man operation at the top," Mr. Bove said of Mr. Thomas, the company's hard-driving architect.

"But when you're growing, you need more people," Mr. Bove added. "He recognized the need for internal changes."

Donald Y. Sharp, senior vice president, described the Western Union addition as an "indirect cause" of the new office. "The company is growing and expanding, and the chairman felt a need for more roles for senior executives," Mr. Sharp said.

Mr. Thomas said, "This team will play a key role in developing FFMC's strategic growth worldwide during the next few years."

Asked if the new arrangement might diminish Mr. Thomas' power, Mr. Bove said, "That would be impossible. His personality is just too strong to allow that to happen."

First Financial also gets a "buy" recommendation from Richard Weingarten and Michael Thomas at Montgomery Securities in San Francisco. They call it "well-positioned to be a long-term winner in multiple areas of payment processing."

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