DALLAS -- This has been such a stellar year for Texas banker Gerald J. Ford that he may have a hard time topping it.
In February, he completed the sale of First Gibraltar Bank, a collection of five failed Texas thrifts, to BankAmerica Corp.
In July, Norwest Corp. said it would pay a whopping $495 million in stock to acquire his closely held First United Bank Group, Albuquerque, a $3.8 billion-asset company with branches in West Texas and New Mexico.
Observers estimate that the two deals have left Mr. Ford, 49, with a net worth that could be as much as $100 million - a subject he declines to discuss except to acknowledge that he "came out well" in both deals. He will also secure a director's seat at Norwest, as one of the largest individual stockholders in the Minneapolis-based bank holding company, when his deal with that institution is consummated early next year.
While Norwest president Richard M. Kovacevich says Mr. Fordhs input will be valued, the soom-to-be board member has no illusions about his role in what some call one of the nation's best-run banks. "They don't need my advice," Mr. Ford says.
The deals have solidified Mr. Ford's reputation as a smart banker with a talent for building community banks that others are willing to pay richly to acquire. Now, Ford-watchers are speculating where the next deal will be. Privately, some suggest he may seek another federally assisted deal -- in recession-plagued Southern California.
"The hard part about being successful like Jerry is that everyone is waiting for you to top what you just did,"said a consultant who has proposed deals to Mr. Ford. "He is picky and that is what makes him tough but good."
Outsiders wonder if the Pampa, Tex., native may slow up after a mild heart attack earlier this year focused attention on his workaholic lifestyle. Although Mr. Ford plays tennis three times a week, he is known for keeping odd hours and a hectic travel schedule. Despite the high-octane stress deal pace, Mr. Ford says his medical problems have had "no impact" on his activities.
'We Will Buy Something'
In fact, Mr. Ford asmits he is in the mood to buy and will say only that he has looked at deals in every part of the country and in nonbank areas such as mortgages servicing or insurance.
"We will buy something," he said matter-of-factly last week. "I'm young, and I still want to work. I'm looking for something that is interesting, challenging, and in which we can make some money."
He won't be more specific other than to say his primary objective is to acquire a thrift to add to First Madison, a $1.2 billion-asset, four-branch remnant of the First Gibraltar deal. First Madison brought he and New York-backer Ronald Perelman success and criticism.
In 1988, Mr. Ford and a group that included Mr. Perelman engineered the acquisition of failed Texas thrifts in a controversial Southwest plan deal that came with $5.1 billion in federal assistance and $900 million in tax breaks. Congressional critics called the federal aid "excessive."
Mr. Ford doubts the Gibraltar deal could be repeated today. The banking industry is healthy, he points out, and federal regulators would likely choose to sell the assets to a going concern rather than cash-rich investors.
If his reputation as a dealmaker was not secured when he sold most of First Gibraltar to BankAmerica earlier this year, it certainly was after the announcement of the Norwest acquisition. Still, some say the megadeals overshadow Mr. Ford's two-decade history of successfully running West Texas community banks.
"Jerry Ford is a good banker first," said Frank Anderson, bank analyst at Little Rock, Ark.-based Stephens Inc. "His banks did well through some of the toughest of times."
For this part, Mr. Ford is too busy looking for his next opportunity to worry about whether he gets more credit as a dealmaker than as a banker. "I don't give that much thought," he said.