acquirer in recent years. But the company's 1995 pace might be described as downright hyperactive, even by its standards. Since the beginning of the year, Birmingham-based Regions has done seven deals in neighboring Georgia, adding $3.3 billion of assets to its existing $241 million base in the Peach State. One of those acquisitions, First National Bancorp of Gainesville, is the largest in Regions' history. The activity surpasses the previous record of four deals and $2.1 billion in new assets posted in 1993. And Regions doesn't intend to stop there, according to chairman and chief executive J. Stanley Mackin. In a recent interview, Mr. Mackin, 63, said he has his eye on further deals in Louisiana and Mississippi. He also indicated he would consider a merger of equals under the right circumstances. The record demonstrates that Mr. Mackin takes the merger-of-equals option seriously. Last January, Mr. Mackin held exploratory conversations at his home with D. Paul Jones Jr., chairman and CEO of Compass Bancshares, just before Compass' divided board plunged into a well-publicized proxy fight. The talks ultimately led nowhere, but subsequent court transcripts produced during the proxy fight show that the two men discussed the possibility of the 52-year-old Mr. Jones succeeding Mr. Mackin as CEO of the combined company. As Mr. Mackin said, "In this day and time, you have to keep your mind open to most any possibility." Q.: Did your Georgia acquisitions result from a grand plan, or were they opportunistic in nature? MACKIN: It's a combination. We have a grand plan. But it is not so specific that it's identified every target in that area. We said several years back in our strategic plan that we would like a presence in the very fine north Georgia market. Those communities have a lot to offer. It's not Atlanta, but we frankly don't feel there's a need for us in Atlanta proper. On the periphery of Atlanta, however, there are a tremendous number of small cities. We know how to bank in a small community, how to make money. So the northern part of Georgia fits that strategy. There's two sides to this thing. There has to be an availability. You can't exactly make somebody offer themselves up. But if you sit on the sidelines and let a First National Bancorp go, it's gone forever. You have to move when the opportunities are out there. In Georgia, the properties were available. And I think that gets provoked by a lot of other activity. When a Bank South Corp. sells (to NationsBank Corp., in September), it stirs up the market. It creates a lot of interest in a decision to sell your bank, if you had it on your mind anyway. Louisiana was very active two years ago. The same kind of environment existed over there and we had all kinds of opportunities. We must have missed 10 or 12 good situations that we were just outbid on. On several of those, I was personally disappointed in not owning them. But there's a price that makes it awfully difficult to go beyond. Q.: For example, didn't Central Bank of Monroe, La., go to First Commerce Corp. for three times book? MACKIN: We were bidders on that bank. I don't understand how First Commerce got to that number. Obviously, they've got some advantages, being local down there. But it's still kind of difficult to look through to how that thing's going to be profitable for them anytime soon. Q.: Do you have any interest in one of the big three New Orleans banks? MACKIN: We'd be interested in a larger presence there. You've got some wonderful institutions down there that do a good job. We'd certainly have an open mind to talking to well-performing institutions of that size. But their thoughts about themselves are probably such that it might preclude us getting together with them. Q.: How about Whitney Holding Corp., the smallest of the three? MACKIN: They're a good bank and we know the management well. (Whitney CEO) Bill Marks is a top-flight banker. I think he pulled off a miracle down there. He turned around a troubled situation. I can't say anything but good about him and the way the company's performed under his leadership. Q.: Why have you stayed out of Mississippi? MACKIN: We continue to look for opportunity there. But they've done a real good job there of putting together some neat holding companies of scope and size. Our thoughts are, rather than go in there piecemeal and put together a bunch of small banks, that possibly in the future there will be an opportunity to join up with one of those holding companies. We've looked at a lot of small banks (in Mississippi). But to compare that type of approach to the other, the other is certainly more preferable. We were, I guess, second in the bidding for Grenada Sunburst System Corp., which was bought last year by Union Planters Corp. Q.: Your historical pattern has been to buy small. Is First National Bancorp, which has $3.1 billion of assets, a signal that you're willing to go after bigger banks? MACKIN: Definitely. We're better prepared at this point in our history. We are large enough, with sufficient managerial capacity, to take on larger opportunities. Q.: Any interest in a merger of equals? MACKIN: I don't have any absolute thoughts about that type of thing. I think in this day and time you have to keep your mind open to most any possibility. We are living in a rapidly changing environment in the financial services industry. But right now, we're not considering anything of that scope. Q.: Any chance of resuming discussions with Compass Bancshares? MACKIN: I don't know. It's common knowledge I did talk to them. And I thought it was a pretty good idea to discuss that possibility. It didn't work. But again, it's a state of mind. Should you talk about something like that? I'd say the answer is yes. As you can imagine, to put together two similar-size companies that are fairly substantial, there's just a lot of efficiencies that have to come out of there. Those are very difficult things. I guess one of the reasons it doesn't work is the terrible social issues that are involved in that type of thing. Q.: Do you have an optimal asset size you'd like to reach? Does Regions have to keep growing to stay competitive? MACKIN: Growth for the sake of growth we're not interested in. We're interested in returning to our owners a handsome return on the investment. And that return has to be, in my mind, equal to anything anybody else can do. The history of this company is such that the performance is very satisfactory from a stockholder's standpoint: more than 27% over five years. There's not too many people out there, I don't think, who can produce that kind of return for their stockholders. As long as we can stand up in front of our owners and make comments such as that, then we're all right. We find that small communities in the Southeast provide an ample opportunity to make sufficient money to retain and keep a happy stockholder base. We have ambition of spreading this philosophy throughout the Southeast in the contiguous states. We think we can continue to grow in every one of the markets we're in for the foreseeable future and in the long-range future. We're not convinced that the community-style bank is passe and going out of business. We do fully intend to be as technologically competent as any of our competitors and ensure we take care of that portion of our customer base that, for instance, might want electronic delivery of services. We fully intend to have some semblance of a virtual bank, or PC-based banking, that will do equally as well as any financial institution in this part of the country. We're not naive enough to think we can ignore what's going on out there in the marketplace. But that's a portion of your customer base, not all of it. The computer isn't going to own this world overnight. You could, I guess, dream about an environment that has so many big, dominant players offering such efficient services at prices that squeeze banks like us to the point where the margins almost disappear. That's the time to go looking for a partner. But we haven't found that yet. Until you find a competitive system that disallows the right profit, there's reason to fight the fight, to keep on going. We're very happy with the ability of this organization to compete in all the markets we're in.
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