Change of Guard in Texas; Berry Names Fronterhouse: Country Boy at Republic Helm Passing Baton as Pledged

Article excerpt

DALLAS -- First there had been Fred Florence at the helm of Republic. Then Karl Hoblitzelle. Followed by James Aston. All had made their mark on Texas banking and on the Dallas community.

Seven and a half years ago, James D. Berry sat in his suburban Highland Park home and contemplated the awesome duties ahead of him as the newly elected chairman of one of Texas largest banking institutions. His career, which had started at a small bank in Oklahoma where he made $125 a month, had risen to this "great day," albeit a "pretty sobering thing" to contemplate.

Among the tasks that faced the fourth man to steer the Dallas-based RepublicBank Corp. back in 1977 was to make certain there would be a suitably strong No. 5 when that time came.

As Mr. Berry put it when he first accepted the job in 1977, "I've told the board and the officers that i've asked for divine guidance to give me leader-ship, which means to be a good listener when making decisions, to be firm after those decisions have been made, and, for want of a better word, to be sufficiently farsighted so I could turn over the baton to as fine a team as was assembled for me."

This week, at age 63, Mr. Berry proposed to Republic's board that Gerald W. Fronterhouse, 48 currently president and chief operating officer of the holding company, be handed the baton.

Under a plan set in motion this Tuesday, Mr. Fronterhouse will become chief executive officer at the corporation's annual meeting in April and Mr. Berry will remain chairman until he retires at 65 in July 1986.

Mr. Berry says he's picked a team that includes all three executives who had been in contention for the top spot: Mr. Fronterhouse, Charles H. Pistor Jr., 54, and Joseph R. Musolino, 47. "I've picked a team. But there can only be one quarterback," Mr. Berry says.

The decision didn't come quickly. He took his time. But he's confident, he says, that all three men have pledged their support to the team concept.

Mr. Berry wanted to name his successor now so that he could spend the next year and a half nurturing the new management.

"I don't like to see management go right up to the last day and then just drop the torch into the successor's hands and not be there to be helpful," Mr. Berry said in an interview earlier this week. "so often, you get more of a shattering of your china that way."

There's a touch of personal experience in that.

Back in 1977, James W. Keay, then chairman of the RepublicBank Dallas, had been a contender, along with Mr. Berry, for the holding company's chief executive position. The decision went down to an emotional deadline.

Asked if he had wanted to avoid that, Mr. Berry said, "I certainly did. That was not much fun for either of us.

"I'm not saying that this is fun for the members of this group, but at least I give them time -- time to work together, time to sort out their own feelings, and time to determine what their aspirations and goals might be. …