Survivor of Texas Merger Finds Home at Banc One

Should bank officers shove off when their institution is taken over?

Robert G. Davis considered just such a move but instead stayed and found the biggest opportunity of his career.

A top officer of MCorp's failed San Antonio bank, Mr. Davis was persuaded to stick around when Banc One Corp. acquired the MCorp franchise in 1989. The extraordinary payoff came this month when he was named president and chief operating officer of Banc One's lead bank in Ohio.

Sticking with the Ship

By ascending from a failed bank in South Texas to a prominent post at Bank One Columbus, the 44-year-old Mr. Davis is living testament that jumping ship isn't always the right response to news of a merger or takeover.

"Acquirers are going to need strong people from the organizations they've bought," said Mr. Davis. "The good things that happen after a takeover can really surprise you."

Mr. Davis' message comes at a time when the careers of tens of thousands of bank employees have been placed at risk by the industry's contraction.

Up to 35,000 jobs could be eliminated through just the three recently announced megamergers, involving Chemical Banking Corp. and Manufacturers Hanover Corp., BankAmerica Corp. and Security Pacific Corp., and NCNB Corp. and C&S/Sovran Corp.

Nevertheless, the vast majority of employees will be needed at the combined entities. It appears at least 163,000 jobs -- more than 80% of the pre-merger total -- will be preserved.

That illustrates that the biggest challenge facing most workers in a takeover is coping with new bureaucracies -- not finding new jobs.

Indeed, if Mr. Davis is any indication, bankers often do not realize just how valuable their skills and experience might be to new owners or a merger partner.

Plenty of Experience

Mr. Davis, a native of Long Beach, Calif., had spent eight years operating two MCorp banks in South Texas. Along the way, he participated in complex loans orchestrated by the parent company, learned about middle-market and small-business lending, and got his feet wet in multinational lending in deals inside Mexico.

He kicked off his career in the corporate lending department of RepublicBank, Dallas.

Focusing on the priority of "putting food on the table for my family," Mr. Davis already had landed a job elsewhere by the time Banc One bought the 20 failed MBanks in 1989. Having fulfilled what he viewed as an obligation to stay until the failed franchise was sold, Mr. Davis was headed for the exit.

He quickly made a U-turn, however, after hitting it off with Banc One executives during their initial tour of the Texas franchise.

Asked what challenges faced the Texas unit, Mr. Davis let loose his pent-up frustration about slack underwriting standards -- and talked himself right into a new assignment as chief credit officer of Bank One Texas.

Ironically, Mr. Davis said, being a top credit cop "was probably the last job I wanted" at Bank One Texas or anywhere else.

But in a move that perhaps many survivors must make when their institutions are acquired, Mr. Davis cast aside personal preferences and buckled down to the task at hand. "The assignment seemed to be important, and I liked the new organization," he said.

Cold Shoulder from Others

The big shock was the friction he experienced with other former MCorp officers. Even as they were coming under pressure to book profitable new loans for Bank One, Mr. Davis was slowing them down by tightening underwriting standards.

"Sometimes I think the loan officers felt we didn't have confidence in them, and it was hard when we had to turn down certain loans," said Mr. Davis, who spent eight years working alongside the former MCorp officers whose practices he was charged with overhauling. "It wasn't a fun job."

At the same time, Mr. Davis, who holds a master's degree in finance from the University of Texas at Arlington, apparently was making an important contribution at Bank One Texas. Working with a group of senior loan officers, he devised a credit control system encompassing every size and type of loan held by each of the subsidiary's 131 Texas offices.

In addition to providing a centralized credit approval mechanism, the system generates reports showing how each office's portfolio is faring in comparison with other offices and with company targets. "Now everybody can see how they are performing in comparison with their peers," said Mr. Davis.

It was this project that apparently set the stage for Mr. Davis' appointment at Banc One's lead bank. As president and chief operating officer at Bank One Columbus, the executive will help guide a $4.9 billion-asset institution with 42 branches and 2,300 employees.

What advice does he have for others who face a takeover?

Should they decide to stay, it's best to avoid the temptation of jumping ship in reaction to current difficulties, he added.

"You can run, but be assured there will be similar challenges in the next organization," the executive said, "and you're walking away from a lot of equity: At your current organization, you already know the people, the good parts and the bad parts."

Acknowledging "there's a whole lot of fate" involved in his progress at Banc One, Mr. Davis said accepting uncertainty and change also seems a big factor in surviving an ownership transition. "Anybody who isn't of a frame of mind to look to the future probably is going to get lost," the executive said.

Equally important, said Mr. Davis, is concentrating on the tasks at hand. "It sounds backward, but I always focus on the job I have and don't focus on what I'm going to do next," he said. "Sometimes, you can worry so much about the future that you neglect opportunities right under your nose."

PHOTO : HANGING IN: Robert G. Davis stayed after takeover and won a key role with new parent.

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