CHESTERFIELD, Mo. -- Somebody forgot to tell Stan Bradshaw that thrifts are a dying industry.

While many of his gray-haired counterparts may be waiting to be bought out, the 37-year-old president and chief executive of Roosevelt Financial Group has a record that puts other thrills and most banks to shame. Since 1990, his company has doubled its asset base twice to $8 billion while maintaining a 20%-plus return on equity.

He did it by keeping an efficiency ratio under 40% with a scant 5% capital level and by taking few interest rate or credit risks. Observers describe Mr. Bradshaw as a boy wonder in an industry dominated by veteran executives ill-equipped to survive in today's competitive environment.

"Some of these thrift guys are running their institutions as custodians waiting to be bought out," said Joe Jolson, thrift analyst at Montgomery Securities Inc. in San Francisco.

To be sure, Mr. Bradshaw is not waiting for someone else to determine his fate. None of the executives at Roosevelt, the nation's 10th-largest thrift, have golden parachutes or employment contracts. Their salaries are modest by most standards because they take incentive pay in stock, which has appreciated six-fold since Mr. Bradshaw took over in March 1991.

"He put his money where his mouth is," said Mr. Jolson. "It's the kind of compensation system you would expect to find at a growth company, not at a thrift."

That is exactly what Stan Bradshaw has been building while earning a reputation for his ability to make decisions based on fact, not feeling.

During a two-hour interview he does not rule out change in Roosevelt's strategic plan as long as it meets one unbending criteria: is it a low-risk way to grow earnings and build shareholder value?

Ask him about the likelihood that Roosevelt will again make real estate loans as it did through the mid-1980s, and Mr. Bradshaw is cool to the idea. "What we still see today is that you can't get a better yield from that kind of loan," he said. "If the fundamentals of that market change, we will reconsider it, as we do from time to time."

Analysts say the answer explains much about Roosevelt's method of handling risk by evenly matching assets and liabilities. "Roosevelt basically marks to market every day," said Joesph Stieven, senior banking analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. in St. Louis. "He [Mr. Bradshaw] wants to reduce the-interest rate risks while still making a good spread. A lot of bankers say that, but he does it."

As Mr. Bradshaw sees it, that is an approach that will start to make his stable net interest margin look good when most of his competitors continue to experience compression as interest rates rise.

"It's been hard to distinguish ourselves in the last two years," he said. "We think it's going to get a lot easier to do as interest rates rise."

To make his point, Mr. Bradshaw shows investors a chart comparing the thrift's effective net spread in the past four quarters to the daily average three-month Treasury rate. Since the third quarter of 1993, the Treasury rate has climbed 102 basis points to 4.08% at midyear. During the same time, his spread has fluctuated only one basis point from 2.35%.

"We don't want to be dependent on any economic environment. If you want to speculate, that's what the commodity markets are for," he said. "For the last few years, we've been showing this to investors, and they'd say isn't this intriguing and they'd just pat the kid on the head. Now, we're winning a lot of converts."

Montgomery's Mr. Jolson agrees, saying Roosevelt has been true to its promises to investors. "You go back several years and some of the projections that Start was making looked really ambitious, but he's delivered the numbers without taking the risks," he said.

However, Roosevelt's asset-liability management has been largely overshadowed by its spectacular growth in the Missouri market. After some relatively small branch acquisitions in the early pan of the decade, Roosevelt turned heads this summer with the acquisition of Farm and Home Financial Corp.

Buying the western Missouri thrift helped give Roosevelt a $5.5 billion mortgage servicing portfolio while also handing it what is believed to be the largest average branch size in the state: nearly $60 million.

Remarkably, Roosevelt has closed few branches during its acquisition program while squeezing most of the efficiencies out of the back office. On Wall Street, the' company is quickly gaining a reputation for racking up merger savings in weeks instead of months.

Within a month of the Farm and Home deal, which doubled the asset base of the company, analysts estimate Roosevelt had already reduced its efficiency ratio to 38%. The thrift is also quick to shape an acquisition's operations to meet its low-risk profile.

Aside from the usual restructuring charges, Roosevelt took an $11.4 million provision to increase reserves to 100% of nonperforming assets and a $20 million loss on the sale of securities, while registering a $19 million loss on the cancellation of interest rate swaps that were not in step with the company's philosophy.

But even with the company's recent record, outsiders are wondering what Mr. Bradshaw will do to keep earnings growth at 15% a year. There are few thrifts left to buy in Missouri, so many speculate that a greater presence in neighboring Illinois, Iowa, or Kansas may be next. Others expect him to continue to develop the franchise in Missouri just as interstate banking opens the state to outsiders next year.

"Bradshaw still believes there are other fill-in acquisitions in Missouri, though none of the bigger transactions are left," said Ben Crabtree, analyst at Dain Bosworth Inc. in Minneapolis. "He certainly has the kind of stock valuation that gives him the currency to buy."

For his pan, Mr. Bradshaw says large entry into other states soon is not likely. He says there are 13 other publicly held thrifts in Missouri with combined assets of $2 billion. He says there are numerous others just across the border of the Show-Me state that could help grow the franchise.

More important, Roosevelt could leverage the 275,000 customers to generate increased profits by selling more financial services. The company has historically stressed traditional thrift deposit products, with a push into annuities and a few other areas.

Mr. Bradshaw admits there is much room to grow by pushing credit cards and other consumer loans and investment products to what he says is Missouri's most underutilized retail franchise.

The question is whether another bank will try to buy Roosevelt and do the same. Indeed, the potential for cross-selling is about the only way most acquirers could earn back the premium that high-performing, low-cost Roosevelt would demand.

Few .consider a buyout likely. Out-of-state buyers would be hard pressed to wring out cost savings in a new market, and Missouri's biggest banks are restricted from buying Roosevelt because of a state deposit cap.

"I never believed they were for sale, not with his equity compounding at 15% a year," said Dain Bosworth's Mr. Crabtree. "As long as Bradshaw sees the growth in front of him, he's not going to sell."

With virtually all his personal net worth tied up in Roosevelt stock, Mr. Bradshaw leaves little doubt that whatever is best for fellow stockholders will drive the future.

"Our employees look around and see the consolidation, and they worry about their jobs," Mr. Bradshaw said. "I tell them there is only one kind of security you can truly have, and that is performance."


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