In the six years since the nation's savings and loan executives last gathered in the Crescent City for an annual convention, there's been a lifetime worth of changes in the industry.

Failures and mergers during that intervening period have pared the total number of S&Ls by about two-thirds. The $200 billion S&L depositor bailout effort resulted in a radical makeover of the federal S&L regulatory scheme.

And the industry's own trade group, the old U.S. League of Savings Institutions, was so tarnished, it was forced to transform itself, emerging as the Savings and Community Bankers of America.

Fresh Faces

The faces have changed, too. Few of the key people of 1986 will be among the 3,100 people gathering here this week.

Of those who won't, most are pursuing new careers. We caught up with a few of them by telephone recently, and here's what they told us:

William O'Connell, the former president of the U.S. League, divides his time between suburban Chicago and Scottsdale, Ariz. He is by no means retired. Mr. O'Connell, whose wife died last August, is trying to keep busy.

"I serve on the board of a bank and on the board of an insurance company I helped organize," he said.

Mr. O'Connell was a key league official for almost 40 years. He became president of the organization in the 1980s, the industry's period of crisis, and stepped down in 1988.

Roger Martin, who was a member of the Bank Board at the time and who argued that the problems at the FSLIC were larger than the official estimates, is now a consultant to the financial institution group of Kemper Securities in Chicago.

"We do a lot of M&A work and conversions from mutual to stock ownership. We have seven engagements now," he said.

Mr. Martin also helped create a bank holding company called Fortress Bankshares. Fortress owns a community bank in Wisconsin and one in Minnesota.

In the Limelight

Mr. Martin was a celebrity of sorts while on the board, getting favorable press in several national magazines, including Business Week, for his blunt assessments of the S&L industry. But he no longer yearns for the limelight.

"I kind of gave it all up. I did my thing politically and then it was time to turn things over to younger people," he said.

Mr. Martin, who was the bank board's resident pessimist, is more optimistic about today.

"It's a very healthy industry now. And very Profitable. The industry has very fine management, and if it can't make money now, it won't ever make it."

M. Danny Wall was the last chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. Angry congressmen forced him out of his job when they replaced the independent agency with the Office of Thrift Supervision.

Mr. Wall moved from Washington back to his former home of Salt Lake City, where he now works as a financial consultant.

Theo H. Pitt Jr. of Rocky Mount, N.C., was the incoming chairman of the U.S. League in 1987, one of the most difficult Periods ever for the S&L industry. Mr. Pitt was placed in the unenviable position of representing an industry in the throes of a financial catastrophe.

His own institution, Pioneer Savings Bank, became troubled in 1990, and he resigned soon after. The thrift was later purchased by a bank.

"Until last October, I was a financial consultant for individuals and small businesses and real estate development projects," said Mr. Pitt.

Last October, he became chairman and CEO of an independent insurance agency that has real estate and property management divisions.

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