The Quotron machine in the corner of SunTrust Banks Inc.'s head offices in Atlanta has developed a magnetic quality in the last few weeks, drawing executives anxious about the company's stock price.
"I'm walking to the Quotron 75 times a day," chairman L. Phillip Humann said, only partly in jest, during a recent interview.
The July 20 announcement of its deal to buy Crestar Financial Corp. and the market's general downward trend have knocked about 20% off SunTrust's stock price. But Mr. Humann and his management team are focusing on pulling this merger off by yearend.
The deal is not complicated by overlapping branch networks and large- scale job cuts.
Nevertheless, SunTrust finds itself walking a high wire as it strives to address customer, employee, and investor concerns. And the fact that it has not done a large merger in more than a decade is bringing extra scrutiny.
"The chance of a problem cropping up is higher than for companies that do a lot of these," said John B. Moore, an analyst with Interstate/Johnson Lane in Charlotte, N.C. "It's not a slam dunk. They've got a lot of work ahead of them."
In one recent move, SunTrust's management team told the board that it would raise the dividend after the deal closes to something more in line with Crestar's $1.32 a year. SunTrust's dividend is $1; an increase had been planned before the deal, SunTrust said.
Customers of Crestar - particularly those who chose it after their previous bank was bought by First Union Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., or Wachovia Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C.-are concerned about losing one of Virginia's last large banking companies.
Crestar's latest advertising campaign has emphasized the value of banking with a Virginia-based company. Now "we're working on a change of tone," said Crestar spokesman Tony Mattera. "Advertising playing off the acquisitions of some of our competition will be put aside."
Employees are increasingly raising questions and concerns about how many jobs are to be lost, where, and when.
SunTrust is being purposefully vague, saying the location and types of jobs to be eliminated will be determined over the next several weeks.
"It would scare people inappropriately" to discuss job losses at this point, said John W. Spiegel, chief financial officer and the director of the committee overseeing the merger process.
And it might not be just Crestar employees who find themselves out of work, said Mr. Humann. Because all operations are being evaluated, some SunTrust employees may be too.
"The staff job disruption will not just be in Richmond," Mr. Humann said. But he stressed that the number of jobs cut would be minimal.
A four-member merger committee has spent the last two weeks assembling more than 27 transition teams to determine how each area within the two organizations would be affected.
At least four teams will be devoted to human resource issues alone, according to John W. Spiegel, SunTrust's chief financial officer who is running the merger committee.
Members of the transition teams have been given a five-point list of key objectives. Customer retention and new business development are point No. 1.
Second is a "constant focus on employee treatment and morale."Cost savings is third. Revenue enhancement and ensuring a "crisp, effective transition process" round out the list.
Mr. Spiegel said one SunTrust executive has been designated as the "scorekeeper" to keep track of the savings and revenue enhancements.
Amid it all, Mr. Humann is anxious to get back to the work of running SunTrust. That means focusing on the company's fee-income machines, including trust and investment banking, while keeping an eye open for nonbank "niche" acquisitions like retail brokerage.
But more bank acquisitions are out-at least for the next 18 months.
"Our plate is full," Mr. Humann said.