Sunday, October 08, 2000

Mega-bankers


Grundhofer men ripe for rivalry?

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        So, what are we to think about this humongous new family bank? Of course,it's not a family bank in the sense that it is owned by one family. Or that it's some sort of neighborhood mom-and-pop operation where they know your name and will let you have your money without a DNA sample.

        It is simply a merger of two already huge banks into one even bigger one. The interesting part — the family part — is that Jerry Grundhofer bought his big brother's bank. Wednesday, Jerry's Firstar Corp. agreed to buy U.S. Bancorp, run by John Grundhofer. Firstar, which used to be Cincinnati's Star Banc Corp, will become the nation's eighth-largest banking company, with 10 million customers and $160 billion in assets.

        And two brothers in the same boardroom.

Just plain mean
        Now, I love my brothers, both of them. Thom is much younger than Steve and me, so our relationship with him is one of love, nurturing and periodic testing to see if we can still make him cry. My relationship with Steve is more complex, which is to say we still try to knock the stuffings out of each other at every opportunity.

        Figuratively speaking.

        As mature role models for our own children, we no longer engage in pinching and hair-pulling. We simply compete. We can't help it, and we both were relieved when our elementary school teachers called it sibling rivalry. Before that, we were afraid we were just plain mean.

        My dad claimed we never took family trips because he and my mom couldn't stand to be in the same car with us for more than 15 minutes. Bickering. Staking out seats. If one was hot, the other was cold. Competing.

        The first thing we did on Easter morning was to dump out our baskets to count peeps and jelly beans to make sure the bunny didn't like one of us better than the other.

        Whenever we play games after family dinners, Mom always insists that Steve and I are on the same team. I think this rule was instituted after a volleyball game that lasted 48 hours. And, by the way, I still say he cheated. Poker, Trivial Pursuit, tennis — it's always the same. Awful to watch, my husband says. But at least there are not 7,200 ATMs and thousands of savings and checking accounts at stake.

Fees R Us
        Let's say, for instance, the Grundhofers get together at the Minneapolis headquarters for Thanksgiving dinner. After turkey and pumpkin pie, the brothers loosen their belts and try to see who can come up with the most outrageous new service charge. Maybe a fee for counting our money. An oxygen-consumption charge if you show up at a branch instead of banking electronically. A special assessment for customers with facial hair. If one brother comes up with a hundred new charges, you can bet the other will try to come up with 101.

        Who will referee disputes over the corporate luxury box at the Metrodome? How about traveling on the company plane? If Jerry says he's cold, will John try to put the window down?

        The plan is for Jerry to keep the title of CEO and president. John is supposed to serve as chairman until he retires at the end of 2002.

        What if he won't go?

        “Make me, you big doody head.”

        “Get out. You're in my seat.”

        “Hey, you're not the boss of me.”

        Then Alan Greenspan would step in: “Don't make me stop this economy.”

       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

       



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