Only Hugh McColl would have the nerve to call mergers and acquisitions the "old paradigm" and then turn around two months later and agree to buy a $41 billion-asset banking company.

But that's exactly what Mr. McColl, the tough-talking chairman of NationsBank Corp., did this year when he shook up the industry by agreeing to pay $9.6 billion - a whopping 2.6 times book value - for St. Louis-based Boatmen's Bancshares.

The 61-year-old Mr. McColl had publicly professed that he preferred joint ventures and technology spending to further acquisitions. But perhaps it came down to doing what he knew best when faced with an unknowable future.

Beginning in 1983, Mr. McColl used acquisitions to build the sleepy $12.2 billion-asset NCNB Corp., based in Charlotte, N.C., into the nation's fifth-largest bank, with $188 billion in assets.

Indeed, his reputation as a successful acquirer is so entrenched in the minds of analysts that many applauded the Boatmen's deal, while acknowledging the dilution shareholders will face as a result of it.

Harold Schroeder, of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., said the Boatmen's acquisition was really about buying customers to push through the infrastructure that NationsBank has created.

The bank has "got to go out and sell all these households some new products to make this thing break even over the next year or two," he said. "If anybody can pull it off, NationsBank can."

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