Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

First Union Chief Is on the Career Hot Seat

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

First Union Chief Is on the Career Hot Seat

Article excerpt

Byron Hodnett is chief executive officer of Jacksonville's

First Union National Bank of Florida, the second-largest bank in

the state.

It's also the bank that provides its massive corporate parent,

First Union Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., with about a third of its

income.

That makes Hodnett a power in First Union land.

But he's also is a man on the career hot seat.

Hodnett is leading the transition team that is grafting a big

New Jersey bank onto the First Union banking tree. The bank is

First Fidelity Corp. and buying it has made First Union the

sixth-largest banking company in the country.

First Fidelity is the 33rd bank Hodnett has brought into the

First Union fold, mostly in Florida.

The transition is a big job, and a big compliment for Hodnett,

who is quietly lowkey about it all.

"Whether it's 2,000 [branches] or whether it's two, it's about

the same process," he said.

But, this time, there is a lot more riding on how well Hodnett

does. As a practical matter, he's feeling pressure from four

sources.

The first is the sheer size of the task.

Hodnett and his combined First Union/First Fidelity team have

to make sure 700 new branches and 12,000 new employees get

quickly blended into First Union. That means putting together

sub-teams to organize everything from changing computer systems

to accounting processes.

About 800,000 hours have been budgeted just for training the

new people in the ways First Union does things.

The second source of pressure comes from Wall Street investors.

"Management is too optimistic about how quickly it can stoke

revenue generation at First Fidelity," said bank analyst Tom

Brown.

Brown is with Donaldson Lufkin and Jenrette Securities Corp. in

New York, and he's not a favorite at First Union. Chairman Ed

Crutchfield calls him -- in a not very friendly tone -- "that

little red-haired fellow."

But Brown speaks for the Wall Street doubters who wonder how

long it's going to take First Union to produce higher earnings

that would justify, what Brown considers, too-high a price paid

for First Fidelity. …

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