Merger in New England: CEOs Got Vastly Different Starts in Life

By Gold, Jacqueline S. | American Banker, March 16, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Merger in New England: CEOs Got Vastly Different Starts in Life


Gold, Jacqueline S., American Banker


Whether the most recently announced big bank combination thrives or ends up a meal for an even bigger rival depends to some extent on how the tough-talking head of Fleet Financial Group gets along with the affable leader of BankBoston Corp.

Described by those who know him as a "bulldog" who would "tear out your throat if you ask a stupid question," Fleet chairman and chief executive officer Terrence Murray grew up as the hard-driving son of an Irish-American factory worker.

Charles "Chad" Gifford, the chairman and chief executive of BankBoston, meanwhile, was born to run a bank. Mr. Gifford was educated at the elite St. George's School in Newport, R.I., and spent summers on Nantucket. His father headed the former Rhode Island Hospital Trust.

Secure in his position as "the right kind of Bostonian ... a really gracious Brahmin," Mr. Gifford is described by fellow New England bankers, former colleagues, and bank analysts as approachable, honest, laid-back.

Though both executives attended Ivy League colleges-Mr. Murray graduated from Harvard, Mr. Gifford from Princeton-and both are married with large families, that is where the similarities seem to end.

In fact, one source said that when the two talked a year ago about a possible merger, Mr. Gifford ended the discussions because he did not feel comfortable with Mr. Murray. "Chad had indicated some concerns about Terry. He wasn't eager to do the deal because of Terry's style," the source said.

Then the situation changed dramatically. BankBoston suffered losses in the bond market, an embezzlement scandal, and a downturn in morale after the departure of several key executives, including its head of retail banking.

Stock in BankBoston went from $60 per share to $47.0625 at Monday's close as investors worried that problems in Latin America would affect the bank's large operation there.

Though the deal may have been hard for Mr. Gifford to swallow, he and Mr. Murray have at least agreed to create an impressively large financial institution based in the region.

"This deal will keep New England on the map," said Allen Sanborn, the president and chief executive of Robert Morris Associates and formerly a vice chairman at Shawmut National Corp.

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Merger in New England: CEOs Got Vastly Different Starts in Life
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