Executive vice president Fleet National Bank, Providence, R.I.

One of the initial entries on William F. Hatfield's resume appears to tell the story of a career headed for the trash heap. Seven of his first nine years at Fleet Financial Group Inc. were spent making leveraged buyout loans.

But Mr. Hatfield, 36, played it safe. He stuck to smaller, local deals with companies he and his associates understood. When LBOs started going bad in the 1990s, his portfolio remained relatively clean.

He got a crash course in high finance. But more important, the experience showed him that even in the heady 1980s, one didn't have to be a high-flier to get ahead.

Even though real estate lenders were getting most of the attention then, Mr. Hatfield was tapped in 1990 to be lending chief at Fleet's troubled Rhode Island bank.

With a $2.2 billion portfolio and nearly 300 in staff, insiders now say he could wind up in the executive suite well before he is 45.

He looks back on the experience with a sense that his methods have been vindicated. "No question about it," he says.

It isn't surprising that Mr. Hatfield became a banker.

He says that as a teenager he enjoyed accompanying his father on business trips and watching him negotiate bank loans.

The elder Hatfield owned a jewelry manufacturing and distribution business in Flint, Mich.

"I got a flavor of banking at a very early age," he says.

Mr. Hatfield says he'd like to run a bank someday, perhaps even Fleet. While he bemoans the additional scrutiny of Congress and regulators, he says opportunities remain for the innovative.

His obvious next step would be to run a Fleet bank, though he says, "I know I've got a few more years ahead of me before that happens."

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