Thursday, June 01, 2006

Support Your Local Banker - New York Times: "Mr. Nagin and his fellow Gulf Coast political leaders lack a vital resource that their predecessors of even a decade ago had: strong and engaged local bankers.

One example, from Amarillo, Tex., would be Donald E. Powell, President Bush's coordinator for Gulf Coast rebuilding. Mr. Powell built a career the old-fashioned way: starting out as loan officer at a savings and loan in his hometown, jumping to the biggest bank in town and working his way to the top. By 1987, he was the chief executive of First National Bank of Amarillo and, in time, he wore every civic badge worth wearing: chairman of the chamber of commerce, member of the city housing authority, patron of the local boys' ranch, trustee of High Plains Baptist Hospital. Had disaster struck Amarillo in the mid-1990's, Mr. Powell could have stood at the front of the room and told federal officials every project worth supporting and every politician to avoid.

Bankers rarely lead cities that way anymore, and their exit from the stage speaks to how communities have changed — and why it may be harder to mend them when disasters strike.

And today? In most cities, the chief executives of the largest banks are no more involved in civic work than the branch managers of I.B.M. That's because, since the 1980's, bank-holding restrictions have eased, local banks have been bought by out-of-state companies and the people who run the banks have become branch managers.

Bank presidents have become corporate nomads. A few years ago, I calculated how long bank executives from First Union Bank (now part of Wachovia Bank) stayed in Atlanta. From June 1994 to September 2000, there were three regional chief executives. With gaps, as one left and the next arrived, the average tenure was 20 months, barely time to attend a few chamber of commerce meetings, much less to lead the organization."


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