Roberts Comes Out on Top In Talman Sale to Amro

Theodore H. Roberts is no stranger to the capital woes that have toppled prominent thrift executives left and right. But the chairman of Talman Home Federal Savings and Loan Association has come up a survivor.

In July, Mr. Roberts engineered the sale of Talman, a profitable but insolvent Chicago thrift, to ABN-Amro Holdings, the largest banking company in the Netherlands.

Dire Need for Capital

The deal promises Talman $300 million in badly needed capital. The capital had been depleted by the writeoff of goodwill in 1989. The goodwill stemmed from supervisory acquisitions in 1982. Congress later said thrifts could no longer count those intangible assets toward capital requirements.

Talman's shareholders are expected to approve the sale to ABN-Amro at a meeting Oct. 15. If U.S. and Dutch regulators give it their blessing - considered a sure thing - the sale should close by Jan. 2.

Mr. Roberts would continue as chairman of the $5.8 billion-asset thrift, renamed LaSalle Talman Bank. And he would expand his duties, becoming president of ABN-Amro's lead U.S. banking arm, LaSalle National Corp. That Chicago-based bank holding company currently has $8.2 billion in assets.

For now, he is not giving interviews. "While this whole thing is in transition, he's staying pretty low-profile," said his spokesman, Jim Sherman. But observers were not surprised that the $210 billion-asset Dutch bank decided to retain the respected Mr. Roberts, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

"I think the man's a powerhouse," said William C. Ferguson, chief executive of Ferguson & Co., Dallas. "He has demonstrated he can operate very successful in a trying environment."

"He's considered to be a very conservative banker who has been trapped in a tough situation, and has done the best he can," said Joe LaManna, a bank analyst with William Blair & Co., Chicago.

Mr. Roberts, 63, began his career at Chicago's Harris Trust & Savings Bank in 1953, rising to executive vice president and chief financial officer in 1975. After 30 years with Harris, he was selected in 1983 to head the St. Louis Fed, a bastion of monetarist thought.

Back to Chicago

Mr. Roberts relinquished that post and returned to Chicago in 1985, after federal regulators recruited him to take over as president and chief executive officer of Talman. It was then the largest government-run thrift pursuing rehabilitation under the Federal Home Loan Bank Board's Phoenix program.

Three years earlier, Talman had takne over three insolvent Chicago-area thrifts at the Bank Board's urging. Those deals created the supervisory goodwill that Talman was forced to wipe off its books in 1989.

Under Mr. Roberts, the thrift became Chicago's largest home lender. By steering clear of commercial real estate lending. Talman's profits rose while other thrifts bled red ink. Until the goodwill writeoff put a $150 million dent in Talman's balance sheet, the thrift was riding high.

The sale to ABN-Amro culminates 15 months of on-again, off-again talks with investors. Some think Mr. Roberts beat the odds by pulling off the deal, though he had a highly visible, desirable franchise to offer.

"There are a lot of us who wondered, because the thrift charter has been so badly bashed," Mr. Ferguson said.

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