WASHINGTON -- Anthony M. Frank began his thrift industry career in 1958 as a bond portfolio manager and assistant to the president at Glendale Federal Savings and Loan in California.

He hopscotched among jobs at three other California thrifts and a real estate firm before joining the predecessor to First Nationwide Bank -- Citizens Savings and Loan -- as president in 1971.

Citizens Savings' business strategy set it apart. In 1971, it became the first thrift to convert from mutual to stock form.

Rising to the posts of chief executive and vice chairman in 1973, Mr. Frank steered the thrift's sale to National Inter Group, and emerged in 1974 as chairman and chief executive of the renamed First Nationwide.

Engineering the Acquisition

In 1985, he engineered First Nationwide's acquisition by Ford.

Under his hand, the thrift continued its tradition of innovation. In 1987, in a bold bid to win customrs coast-to-coast, it installed more than 100 branches in K-mart stores.

When Mr. Frank stepped down in February 1988, his successor, Robert E. Lackovic, forged ahead with ambitious expansion plans and established First Nationwide as an aggressive commercial real estate lender.

In the last two years, however, commercial real estate losses have been a serious drag on First Nationwide. According to Mr. Frank, the thrift's problems took hold after he left. For one thing, he said, First Nationwide doubled in size through the acquisition of 1k thrifts in 1988.

The K-mart branches were shut in 1990. But Mr. Frank said the experiment -- which cost $20 million -- was nevertheless worth a try.

Tapping His Experience

Since becoming postmaster general in March 1988, Mr. Frank has tapped his experience as a financial executive to find new ways to deliver postal services and boost revenues.

Now, some banks dispense stamps through automated teller machines. In Seattle, banks can lease post office lobby space for branches. That program is to be expanded nationwide.

Admittedly, some of his ideas have flopped.

Last year, when government-check-cashing requirements resurfaced as the political tradeoff for expanded bank powers, Mr. FRank said the Postal Service might be able to handle the task at its 40,000 branches-and collect some fee in the process. He later determined it couldn't, because post office lines were already too long.

Even so, it's a safe bet that he more ideas germinating.

"You can always see your own country better when you're travelling abroad," he said, "and you can see your own industry when you're apart from it."

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