Banks and Regional/National Banks and National City Bank and Banking & Finance and PNC Financial

Stitle: Bank's sale to PNC fuels 'burst of adrenaline'

December 15, 2008
This would be a natural time for Steve Stitle, who's overseen National City Corp.'s Indiana operations for more than a dozen years, to step aside.

He's 63, and the last year would have made a man half his age weary. The Cleveland-based company's foray into subprime mortgages sent it into a tailspin — and ultimately into the arms of a suitor, Pittsburgh-based PNC Financial.

Regulatory filings show Stitle, CEO of National City Bank in Indiana, would get a nice financial reward for parting ways after the sale. He and other senior executives have employment agreements entitling them to collect three times their annual compensation if they step aside following a "change in control."

But those who think he might use the sale as a path to a graceful exit don't know Stitle.

"I have no intention of retiring — now or ever," he said.

Stitle became a banker in 1995 at age 49, following a 25-year career at Eli Lilly and Co. His departure as a Lilly vice president and board member followed the tumultuous ouster of Lilly CEO Vaughn Bryson.

After leaving Lilly, he mulled a variety of career options, including teaching at a college. But within months, he returned to the corporate world to serve as chairman of National City's Indiana outpost.

National City's sale puts him at another crossroads, but he's not interested in veering onto the exit ramp this time, either.

"I think I would be worse off if I stepped back," he said. "I have every intention of being the senior representative in this market for PNC."

He spoke admiringly of Danny Danielson, the vice chairman of City Securities Corp., who still comes to work at age 89.

Tough times

The $5.6 billion sale to PNC is set to close Jan. 2. That's not a day too soon for Stitle, who acknowledged recent months "have been tough. I would be lying if I said it any other way."

National City laid the seeds for its unraveling with the 1999 purchase of subprime originator First Franklin Financial of San Jose, Calif. — a bet that soured when the subprime market began to implode two years ago.

The bank's woes had little to do with National City's bread-and-butter banking operations in Indiana or eight other states, but dragged them down just the same. In recent years, in fact, Indiana consistently has been among National City's top-performing states.

PNC is paying just $2.23 a share — nearly 90 percent less than National City shares were fetching a year ago. The plunging stock price has whittled the value of Stitle's 165,000 National City shares to just $368,000.

Under National City, "we've been in a defensive mode. That will turn into an offensive mode," Stitle said.

Indeed, the deal probably won't have the negative repercussions — including deep local job cuts — that come with many mergers involving banks in Indiana.

This is one of five states where National City is a major player but PNC isn't. As a result, Stitle expects few if any of National City's 1,800 Hoosier workers to lose their jobs as PNC completes the integration process over the next 24 months.

National City already is a force to be reckoned with in Indiana. Statewide, it has the second-largest market share, behind Chase. It boasts the No. 1 market share in Fort Wayne and is No. 3 in the South Bend-Mishawaka-Elkhart territory.

Stitle said the merger gives him "a burst of adrenaline. It's just so positive for everybody here."

Still, he knows he'll face challenges. With any bank sale, competitors attempt to capitalize on the disruption, scooping up customers who feel inconvenienced or neglected.

In a recent probate court filing, nieces and nephews of 93-year-old Ruth Lilly — the sole surviving great-grandchild of the pharmaceutical firm's founder — said they were "concerned" about National City's sale. National City has served as Ruth Lilly's conservator since purchasing locally based Merchants National Corp. for $641 million in 1992.

The family "will closely monitor this development to determine its effect on the best interests of Ruth Lilly, the Lilly family and other beneficiaries," the filing said.

Stitle wouldn't discuss specific clients but said, "With all of our customers, we have to make them feel very comfortable, and we will."

He thinks ownership by PNC — which has avoided the financial minefields that have dragged down many banks — gives him a good story to tell.

"Our total focus is switched over to what we can do in the new environment, in the new year. I would like to put 2008 behind me. I'm kind of like a kid in a candy store. I'm real excited."
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