Washington Mutual Inc.'s bid for Great Western Financial will be a major test of Kerry Killinger's skill as an acquirer.

He must quickly convince skeptical investors that he can convert lumbering Great Western, well known for its lavish ways and sleepy culture, into a lean, mean banking machine.

Mr. Killinger's rich offer for the Chatsworth, Calif., thrift rests on the anticipation of substantial income growth at the merged institution.

He has promised investors that by 1998, the merger with Great Western would yield an added $100 million in after-tax revenues, and another $150 million in 1999.

The revenues will come, he says, through growth in the mortgage and consumer loan businesses.

In addition, he foresees $340 million in cost savings.

By those measures, the new Washington Mutual would post a 22% return on equity by 1998, a stellar performance for a thrift.

Analyst David H. Winton of Keefe, Bruyette & Woods finds Washington Mutual's bid wanting compared to H.F. Ahmanson's, which relies exclusively on cutting $400 million in costs at the overlapping franchises.

"It's a hell of lot easier to believe cost savings than revenue enhancements," Mr. Winton said on Thursday.

Still, Mr. Killinger's "record is very good," Mr. Winton said. "That's why I'm not saying we can throw it out."

Reflecting those mixed emotions, Washington Mutual's stock was down 19 cents in late trading Thursday, after climbing earlier in the day upon announcement of the deal.

Over the course of dozens of deals, Mr. Killinger has acquired a reputation as a shrewd dealmaker who is a man of his word.

In the past year alone, he has closed three deals-the asset-doubling purchase of American Savings Bank, Irvine, Calif., and two smaller deals in Utah.

Analyst R. Jay Tejera of Dain Bosworth Inc., Minneapolis, says Washington Mutual has mastered the formidable logistical challenges of integrating a purchase.

They have a "hit team" that goes in and analyzes systems, an organizational chart on when they'll change the systems, a "rolling wave" of the acquired employees coming in for training, and so on, Mr. Tejera said.

Mr. Killinger has "assembled the right people. He has focused on the important products, he requires results by reasonable deadlines," he said.

And Mr. Killinger has proven that he won't overpay, Mr. Tejera added, buying only when he can be sure that the deal will add to earnings in the first year.

A chief executive's credibility is a crucial ingredient in the success of a deal, said Edward Harshfield, who as chief executive of California Federal Bank negotiated the thrift's sale to First Nationwide.

"If the CEO doesn't have personal credibility, if there's any hair on the deal at all, it's very hard to get it done," Mr. Harshfield said.

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