Workshop Helps Banc One Put Its Stamp on Acquisitions

About five years ago, Banc One Corp. started on the acquisition trail.

It acquired so many small banks at such a fast clip that, between 1986 and today, its employee head count grew from 900 to three times that number.

As it merged its acquisitions into the established organization, top managers had a very definite idea about what kind of company they wanted to end up with: one just like Banc One, but larger.

How can a bank gobble up small banks, but let them keep their community identities? One way is through in-house training that supports the existing company culture.

Learning the Ropes

Banc One and Pittsburgh-based Mellon Corp., which has boosted its market penetration in the Philadelphia area with a few key acquisitions in the past few years, have developed programs for managers of the acquired companies that:

* Teach them about the existing company culture.

* Get them up to speed quickly on policies and procedures.

* Help them become better employees in the new organization.

At Banc One College, as the company calls its program, the goal is pure indoctrination into the corporate culture.

Banc One leaves existing management in place after an acquisition, and each of the banks operating under the Banc One umbrella has its own CEO and board of directors. But shortly after the acquisition, senior managers of the acquired banks are sent to Banc One College, a two-week, 18-hour-a-day workshop with speeches, small group meetings, aerobic sessions at dawn, and Outward Boundlike excursions.

"Banc One's strategy -- including the culture, which is taught in Banc One College -- is obviously successful if you look at the results," said Anat Bird, director of financial institutions consulting at BDO Seidman, New York. "For example, Marine Bank was just a sleeping bank in Milwaukee; it was not a real contender in the market. Then Banc One bought it and breathed new life into it. Now, it's a very strong bank in Milwaukee, Racine, and the surrounding areas."

Cost Efficiency

Besides preaching the corporate line, in-house training has the extra advantage of cost efficiency, said John Russell, Banc One's vice president in charge of marketing.

At Bank One, there is no central office to manage the training. That saves on overhead expenses. Instead, one of the regional retail executives will organize the management training conference for the year. The next one will be rotated to another region.

Does that make for mismanaged conferences, where the speakers -- or worse yet, the audience -- don't show up?

No, said Mr. Russell. "Our managers are paid on performance. That's a great motivation for making sure the conference works."

Old and New Hands

Mellon's management training program is for both new managers and managers who come from banks that Mellon acquires.

"Our training department takes a relatively active role in getting managers ready when the company buys another bank, so that the newcomers barely miss a beat," said Mark Roberts, who heads the corporate management development department at Mellon.

Tracy Weller, who went through Mellon's management training program when she first entered banking, said she continues to heed the lessons she learned, especially since her job as a product officer in the retail bank requires her to interact with many different departments within the organization.

"Though the program was years ago, it taught me the Mellon mind-set," said Ms. Weller, who was a new face in banking when she went through the program, though many of her classmates were managers from banks Mellon had acquired.

The In-House Advantage

"No outside seminar could give us such an immediate exposure to so many different levels of management," she said. "Because it was internal, it was intensified and more connected to the Mellon approach of doing things. By the time we walked out, most of the bankers from the acquired banks and I had been |Mellonized.'"

Certainly, in-house training has the advantage of being tailored to individual bank management's goals. At Mellon, the emphasis has been on team building and lowering the barriers between different levels of management, in addition to the more general concepts of productivity and quality.

Nevertheless, cost constraints have top management questioning all budgets -- including the training department.

"Training dollars are considered soft dollars," said Michael P. Sullivan, a marketing and training consultant in Charlotte, N.C. "And whether you are talking about using a consultant or inside group there is less training going on -- period. Even those that are maintaining a training staff are cutting back."

The training staff at Mellon admits that's true. "About a year and a half ago, we slashed our training staff in half," said Ms. Balmer, manager of corporate staffing and development. "Yet the bank decided this was still the best conduit to support the philosophy of the organization as a whole."

PHOTO : John Russell Banc One marketing VP

PHOTO : Michael P. Sullivan Training consultant

Ms. Christy, a freelance banking reporter, is based in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

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