On New Year's Day 1994, John Dienes was sitting in a duck blind with J. Terrell Brown, United Companies' chief executive. They were discussing business. The question of new management for United Companies came up, and Mr. Brown offered Mr. Dienes a job.

Frustrated by the red tape, shrinking rate spreads, and self-immolating competition in the banking industry, where he had spent almost 30 years, Mr. Dienes accepted.

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