Late Tuesday, as his hometown rival David A. Coulter was ending a 22-year run with BankAmerica Corp., Paul Hazen of Wells Fargo & Co. was looking confidently to the future.
The Wells Fargo chief executive officer, speaking with reporters after shareholders overwhelmingly approved a merger with Norwest Corp., said he has no plans to leave the company.
And he spoke of the opportunities that lie ahead for the megabank that is to be created Monday, asserting to shareholders that the new Wells Fargo & Co. will become "the premier financial services company in the United States."
Mr. Hazen did not dissect the events that led Mr. Coulter to step down as president of the company he headed until its Sept. 30 merger with NationsBank Corp. Instead, he painted a sunny picture of how the Wells- Norwest partnership-with Norwest CEO Richard M. Kovacevich at the helm-is taking shape.
"It starts at the top, and I can tell you that there is a complete blend of philosophies between the two companies," said Mr. Hazen, who will be the chairman of the new Wells. "There is great mutual respect and a great anticipation for all the benefits and values that can come out of putting the two organizations together."
Observers said the mergers involving the West Coast banking giants are shaping up as a study in contrasts.
"Just look at the management announcements-the majority of positions in the new BankAmerica went to NationsBank people," said Joseph K. Morford, an analyst at Van Kasper & Co. "In the Norwest-Wells merger, there is clearly a good mix from each bank."
"So far, everything we've seen indicates that Norwest and Wells are working well together; obviously there have been some challenges in the Nations/BofA combo," he added.
Wells Fargo's rocky experience in integrating First Interstate Bancorp, which it acquired in 1996, may have sharpened its focus on the cultural side of bank mergers. Numerous missteps led to significant defections of Wells customers-an outcome Mr. Hazen said Wells and Norwest officials are determined not to repeat.
"You can't ignore the fact that there are potential differences in culture," Mr. Hazen said. But looking across top management, he said, he is already noticing a strong melding of Wells Fargo and Norwest methodologies.
There is a "great sense of ... getting things done the right way, in providing the best customer service, and not disrupting anything," he said. The new bank will be run by a four-person team consisting of Mr. Kovacevich, Mr. Hazen, Leslie S. Biller of Norwest, and Wells president Rodney L. Jacobs.
However, he acknowledged, it is still very early in the process; bank officials plan to take roughly three years to blend the two organizations. Any problems, defections, or culture clashes could crop up further down the road, as the real complexities of combining two large banks arise.
Wells Fargo is known for its emphasis on efficiency, technology, and alternative delivery systems, while Norwest's strengths lie in its high- touch, multiple-product sales culture. Analysts said the challenges will lie in places like California, where Wells employees face changes in the way they do business, regardless of how successful they have been.