Frank N. Newman bravely tried to keep Bankers Trust Corp. independent, but in the end he just ran out of time.
That is the prevailing, sympathetic view of Mr. Newman, the former BankAmerica Corp. chief financial officer and U.S. Treasury official who is capping a three-year tenure in New York by preparing to sell Bankers Trust to Deutsche Bank.
In the end, markets dealt harshly with Bankers Trust-both its stock price and its own portfolio. Its chairman and chief executive officer, once viewed as a savior, had to withstand intense pressure and criticism.
"He came into Bankers Trust at a very difficult time," said analyst Raphael Soifer of Brown Brothers Harriman & Co. "And he did a lot to bring Bankers Trust back. He was bold. He was decisive with acquisitions," notably those of Wolfensohn & Co. and Alex. Brown & Sons that turned the company in more relationship-oriented, investment banking directions.
Mr. Soifer was typical in praising Mr. Newman for "restoring Bankers Trust's credibility." He said the chairman "did as good a job as could be done under the circumstances," but "the markets fell apart."
"He brought them respectability (and) access to the best thinking in Washington and on the West Coast," said Dennis J. Lehr, a banking attorney with Hogan & Hartson in Washington.
He said it is unfair to criticize Mr. Newman for failing to forestall the consequences of speculation. "No genius could have said, 'Boy, if Russia defaults, that's going to be the end of these markets for us,'" Mr. Lehr said.
Senior equity analyst Stephen Berman, of Stein Roe & Farnham said Mr. Newman "hasn't been given enough time to show what he can do. The board has undercut him."
Under the reported terms of the $9 billion deal with Deutsche Bank of Frankfurt, Mr. Newman would be named to the latter's managing board and would co-lead a combined commercial and investment banking group with Josef Ackermann, who currently heads that unit for the German company.
Mr. Newman, 56, was brought in to restore credibility at the $156.2 billion-asset Bankers Trust after it was racked by a derivatives scandal.
During the recent megamerger wave he argued strongly against the "bigger is better" theory-ironic considering he is to be part of the world's biggest bank in assets.
In a speech to the Bank and Financial Analysts Association this year, Mr. Newman said: "Many of the world's 10 largest financial institutions are not viewed as competitive leaders. The basic presumption that sheer size will produce leadership and higher returns has to be questioned. It may work for some, but each firm has to think through the logic for itself, without simply following a fad."
"At Bankers Trust," he said, "I have never seen a piece of business that we wanted to do but felt we could not do because we lacked size or capital."
He was speaking when Bankers Trust had restored much of its luster, and before it suffered a $488 million third-quarter loss due mostly to trading in Russian and high-yield securities.
There remained persistent criticisms that the New York banking company was too addicted to trading.
Besides the Alex. Brown diversification, Bankers Trust tried to expand its cash management business, but it "doesn't have a huge base of annuity- like income," according to Lehman Brothers analyst Diane Glossman.
Peter McPherson, the president of Michigan State University in East Lansing, who worked at BankAmerica Corp. from 1989 to 1993 when Mr. Newman was its CFO, called the beleaguered executive "an extremely competent, thorough, and thoughtful professional."
"Frank's a very good and careful man," Mr. McPherson said. "I have enormous respect for him. These developing country markets have been more tumultuous than almost any other time in modern history."
"I know Frank Newman for more than 20 years," said Mr. Berman. "He's a very honest, straightforward guy. Sure, he won't get the stock to $93 (the price Deutsche is offering) in six weeks. But give it a year's time. I think that Newman had a terrific start."
He recently suffered bad press. An article in the Oct. 26 Fortune magazine raised questions about Mr. Newman's lifestyle, alleging a proclivity to spend lavishly, jet to Paris with his glamorous wife in the corporate plane, and throw a gala at Carnegie Hall while the company was contemplating dramatic personnel cuts.
Vernon Jordan, the Washington lawyer and Bankers Trust board member, was quoted in the story expressing doubts about Mr. Newman's future.
Mr. Soifer called that "a calculated move to put pressure" on Mr. Newman and "a cheap shot."