Banker Helped Lead Wave of Consolidation -- WSJ

Date : 08/06/2019 @ 09h02
Source : Dow Jones News
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Banker Helped Lead Wave of Consolidation -- WSJ

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By James R. Hagerty 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (June 8, 2019).

Emerging from Army service in 1957, Andrew Craig had job offers from International Business Machines Corp. and a drug company. He saw more opportunity in banking.

When he interviewed at banks, he wrote later, "I remember looking at their senior executives, who were all nearing retirement age, and thinking, 'I want their jobs!' "

Mr. Craig, who died May 24 at age 88, went into banking when it was mostly a local business. By the time he retired, he had helped lead a consolidation wave that eliminated thousands of banks and created a few giants operating across the nation.

As CEO of St. Louis-based Boatmen's Bancshares Inc. from 1988 to 1996, he used acquisitions to build a strong regional banker in nine central states. He gave executives baseball bats embossed with the order to "hit singles," rather than swinging wildly for the fences. By the mid-1990s, consolidation by bigger banks made Boatmen's look more like prey than a predator.

Mr. Craig agreed to sell Boatmen's to NationsBank Corp. for $9.5 billion in 1996. The offer was about 2.7 times book value at a time when twice book value was considered pricey.

Mr. Craig served for 16 months as chairman of NationsBank. In 1998, NationsBank merged with BankAmerica Corp. and adopted the Bank of America name.

Reflecting consolidation, the number of U.S. commercial banks with federally insured deposits shrank to 8,777 in 1998 from 13,165 when Mr. Craig began his career 41 years earlier.

NationsBank's CEO, Hugh McColl, was so eager to buy Boatmen's that he arrived for negotiations in St. Louis in a Cardinals baseball cap. "Andy is a terrific trader," Mr. McColl said after signing the deal. "That's why the price is as high as it is."

After retiring from Bank of America, Mr. Craig helped found a venture-capital firm, RiverVest Venture Partners.

Andrew Billings Craig III, an only child, was born March 20, 1931, in Buffalo and raised in the village of Jasper, N.Y. His parents operated a general store founded by his paternal grandfather. His father also delivered groceries to farmers, worked as an insurance agent and served on the board of a local bank.

On Sundays, Mr. Craig recalled in an unpublished memoir, the family attended a Presbyterian church and heard "fire-and-brimstone admonitions about all of our sins." The pastor "didn't seem to have a lot of credibility with my parents and me. We just listened."

Young Andrew grew to 6-foot-4 and was on his high school's basketball, baseball and track teams. At half-time in basketball games, he dashed into the stands, still wearing his basketball shorts, to blow his trumpet for the pep band.

After graduating from high school in 1949, he spent a year at the Manlius military school near Syracuse, N.Y., and then enrolled at Cornell University. Because his mother wanted him to become a physician, he started on a pre-medicine major before switching to zoology and then sociology. He served as president of his fraternity. He transferred to the University of Buffalo to earn the final credits needed for a bachelor's degree in sociology.

He served in the Army as an intelligence officer and met his future wife, Virginia Jean Coskery, known as Jake, on a blind date.

Buffalo, N.Y.-based Manufacturers & Traders Trust Co. hired him in 1957 as a management trainee with a salary of $4,800 a year. He was put to work answering customer questions and complaints. It wasn't the challenging job he expected. "I wondered how the heck I had gotten myself into this position," he wrote in his memoir.

To improve his chances for promotion, he started taking accounting and banking courses at night. "From day one, I began to calculate my career progression," he wrote. The goal was to learn every aspect of banking, a task that proved "interesting, challenging -- and sometimes boring."

After three years of training, he became a commercial loan officer, starting with individual secured loans and moving on to small business loans, then credits to big companies. In 1974, he was promoted to CEO of M&T. He jumped to BancOhio Corp. in 1983 and two years later joined Boatmen's, a bank formed in 1847 to serve workers on steamboats plying the Mississippi River. He rose to CEO in 1988.

"Acquisitions are a line of business with us," he told a trade publication in 1994. "We have a staff working on acquisitions all the time."

Mr. Craig is survived by his wife of 61 years, Virginia, two daughters and two grandsons.

His hobbies included hunting and fishing. A hammerhead shark he caught off Florida was displayed in one of his offices. In his retirement, he sometimes competed with friends in piloting miniature remote-control sailboats.

Write to James R. Hagerty at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 08, 2019 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)

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