President First USA Inc., Dallas

It's a good thing that Richard Vague majored in communication.

In 1989, Mr. Vague was part of the management team that bought First USA Inc. from Lomas Financial Corp. Completed with funding from Merrill Lynch & Co. and J.P. Morgan & Co., the buyout of the credit card bank put the young executive in touch with a whole new constituency -- investors.

"All of a sudden it was incumbent upon us to communicate clearly with that audience," Mr. Vague said. "The company became very visible."

First USA became even more visible this year -- it went Today, the Dallas-based bank is one of the only "pure" credit card plays on Wall Street, meaning it's watched closely by investors hoping to put a value on other bank card businesses.

But with the 36-year-old Mr. Vague at its helm, First USA is clearly not a run-of-the-mill card bank. The company exclusively targets high-income consumers with a propensity to revolve, offering them low-rate cards with no annual fee.

That strategy has paid off handsomely. The company, which has over $2 billion in credit card loans, put $600,000 in new card loans on its books during its last fiscal year, and expects to do even better this year. Its share price has doubled since its initial public offering in June.

Mr. Vague has been in banking since his college student days, when he took a job at a Houston-subsidiary of MCorp -- the predecessor of First USA. It was there that he met John Tolleson, who has remained his boss for the ensuing 15 years. Mr. Tolleson is now chairman of First USA, and Mr. Vague is its president.

After he earned his degree at the University of Texas at Austin, Mr. Vague was appointed an ad director at MCorp, responsible for promoting its growing ATM network. He has been enthralled by technology ever since.

"The credit card business, at its heart, is an information business," he says. "Most of it is directing information. As a consequence, this organization is peopled with very bright individuals. It's very stimulating."

For the future, Mr. Vague says he is looking forward to First USA strengthening its competitive position. And it is unlikely that he will turn up running someone else's card business anytime soon.

"The situation here is not typical," Mr. Vague says. "The entire management group has a reasonably significant ownership in the company. So it's less a job or a career stop along the way.

"It's a longer-term investment in something significant, both professionally and personally. "

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