When Paul M. Homan joined First Florida Banks Inc., he thought it would take him as long as three years to turn the troubled company around. He never dreamed his work would be completed within nine months.

Last Monday, Barnett Banks Inc. announced plans to acquire Tampa-based First Florida for over $50 a share, or about $800 million, depending on the price of Barnett's stock when the deal closes at yearend.

First Florida, with $5.4 billion in assets, was trading in the $16-a-share range and battered by real estate losses when Mr. Homan took command last August.

"We rebuilt the franchise much quicker than I ever anticipated," said Mr. Homan, 52.

Mr. Homan had been so certain of a long stay, in fact, that he purchased an $800,000 home in an exclusive neighborhood on Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard.

But he's not complaining about having to sell the house.

Because of stock options granted to him when he took over as president and chief executive officer, Mr. Homan will walk away with about $1.5 million when the deal closes, probably in December.

The options on his 33,000 shares can be exercised at First Florida's acquisition price, which depends on the price of Barnett's shares at closing.

Mr. Homan said the negotiations with Barnett and two other bidders proceeded so quickly, beginning in early April, that he hasn't had time yet to consider his future. He made it clear early in the negotiations that he did not intend to stay on with the acquiring bank. The two likeliest possibilities, he said, are getting involved in another turnaround situation or returning to government service.

Mr. Homan, who began his career as a bank examiner in San Francisco, worked for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, off and on, for 18 years. Before taking the First Florida post, he served as senior adviser to former comptroller Robert L. Clarke.

'He Was the Right Guy'

His turnaround experience is also extensive. Before First Florida, Mr. Homan took temporary assignments at Nevada National Bank in Reno; Continental Illinois, now Continental Bank, Chicago; and Phoenix-based Pacific Southwest Bank, now part of BankAmerica Corp.'s Arizona subsidiary.

"He was the right guy for the job," said Benjamin C. Bishop Jr., chairman of the Jacksonville-based investment banking firm Allen C. Ewing & Co. "Most everybody was surprised [that the First Florida acquisition] happened so quickly, and maybe that's a tribute to Paul that he got it cleaned up quickly enough to sell it when an opportune offer showed up."

Mr. Homan said his reorganization efforts at First Florida were helped by a recovery in the state's economy that began in the third quarter of last year. "Our borrowers got well and we got well," he said.

Wall Street Trend Helped

A bullish stock market, which particularly boosted bank stocks, made the prospect of an acquisition more inviting. Recent purchases in the Midwest and Northwest by Banc One Corp. and other acquirers at more than two times book value created the right climate for First Florida to win its own extremely lucrative buyout premium of 2.43 times book.

Mr. Homan recalls reviewing the bids in the late afternoon of Friday, May 15, with officers of a company controlled by the Lykes family, First Florida's majority shareholders. Barnett's bid was the last of the three to be opened.

"We were all elated it was that high," Mr. Homan said. "We all shook each other's hand."

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