Recruiters say there is a distinct possibility that none of First Interstate Bancorp's top executives will have a job at the institution after its merger with Wells Fargo & Co. is completed this spring.
Bad blood from the hostile takeover battle and $39.7 million worth of golden parachutes for First Interstate executives who either lose their jobs or can show that their new assignment would be a demotion could make it difficult for many First Interstate executives to stay.
Furthermore, Wells' perceived preference for its own people may make it more inclined to pay for the parachutes than to keep the executives, observers say.
If any senior First Interstate executive does stay, recruiters say, the most likely candidates are First Interstate's retail chief Linnet F. Deily, in Houston, or wholesale banking chief Bruce G. Willison, in Los Angeles.
"It's a tough call," said Richard B. Krell, a managing director in Los Angeles at executive recruiter Russell Reynolds Associates Inc. "But if you reflect back 10 years ago and look at what happened when Wells took over Crocker (National) Bank, virtually no one made the cut."
The Crocker deal is seen as a model for the Interstate merger because it, too, was an in-market combination of similar-sized institutions.
This much is clear about post-merger Wells: It will be run by Wells chairman Paul Hazen and president William F. Zuendt. First Interstate chairman William E.B. Siart will leave.
Other details, including executive appointments, are under study. About 8,000 jobs are to be eliminated, and the ax is expected to fall most heavily on the rank-and-file and on executives in California. A Wells spokeswoman declined to comment for this article.
Many observers, however, put Ms. Deily at the top of a list of executives Wells may want to keep. The reason? Ms. Deily, 50, was a rising star at Los Angeles-based First Interstate.
More importantly, she has experience running banks outside California. This is something San Francisco-based Wells lacks but needs, since the merger will give the company its first multistate branch network.
Before becoming retail head in January, as part of a broader management shift from a geographic to a line-of-business management structure, Ms. Deily had been head of First Interstate's Texas bank subsidiary.
"Her knowledge of the Texas market, proven ability to run a far-flung market, and the fact that she is widely regarded as one of the most talented women in banking make her an obvious choice," said Michael C. Bruce, a director in Los Angeles at executive recruiter SpencerStuart.
Observers said her most likely assignment would be overseeing Wells' non-California retail operations. A First Interstate spokeswoman said Ms. Deily would not comment.
Experience with non-California operations may also make Wells interested in John S. Lewis, 42, First Interstate's head of retail operations in the Southwest, as well as James J. Curran, 56, head of its mortgage operations. Both executives report to Ms. Deily.
Before becoming mortgage head in January, Mr. Curran had been head of First Interstate's northwest region. Neither man returned calls seeking comment.
Wells may also want to keep Mr. Willison, 47, who was head of First Interstate's flagship California bank before his January switch to wholesale chief.
Mr. Willison is said to command great staff loyalty, to have close ties to the Los Angeles business community, and excellent banking skills. Wells plans to base some of its lines of business in Los Angeles, as part of a dual headquarters structure.
If commercial banking were based there, Mr. Willison could be a natural choice to lead the unit, many observers said.
"I kind of think Willison will stay," said Mr. Krell, the executive recruiter. Mr. Willison did not return a call seeking comment.
Another executive who may stay is Daniel R. Eitingon, 50, who last year was promoted from head of California retail banking to head of the banking technology group. In this post, he oversees information systems, alternative delivery, and marketing.
Mr. Eitingon's background is potentially an ideal match for Wells, which emphasizes alternative delivery. He said he would be happy to stay if Wells can find the right job for him.
"I think the institution that will arise from the combination of these two banks will be a banking powerhouse," he said.
But two of Wells' most highly regarded executives share Mr. Eitingon's expertise in technology and banking - Mr. Zuendt and executive vice president and alternative delivery head Dudley M. Nigg. That means there may be no room for Mr. Eitingon, recruiters said.
First Interstate's senior administrative and credit executives are expected to have an especially hard time getting jobs at Wells. That's because banks tend to fill these posts with people steeped in their own ways, unless they want to change lending practices or corporate culture, which Wells does not.
One who may make the cut is executive vice president and human resources head Lillian R. Gorman, 42. Recruiters said she is one of the best in the industry at her job.