MICKEY MAURER Commentary: Banker’s exit won’t end good deeds

Indiana, as you know, has not escaped the inevitable crush of consolidation in the banking industry. No one should have been surprised by the announcement that First Indiana Corp. was selling itself to an out-of-state bank, Milwaukee-headquartered Marshall & Isley Corp.

In spite of the best efforts of M&I, The National Bank of Indianapolis, of which I am chairman of the board, will add business as a result of this transaction. Some of First Indiana’s customers prefer to deal with a local bank and will make a switch. But that will be bittersweet. This transaction may very well set the capstone on the extraordinary business career of one of my heroes, Robert H. McKinney.

For years, I read with awe and respect of Bob McKinney’s numerous achievements. Under his leadership, First Indiana grew from assets of $30 million to $2 billion. In the early and mid-1990s, First Indiana was the largest single-family mortgage originator in the state. Like George Bailey, Bob made sure every deserving customer could own a home.

Bob successfully operated many businesses under the umbrella of The Somerset Group Inc. He was also a founding partner of Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, one of central Indiana’s largest and finest law firms.

Bob graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served two tours of duty in the Pacific. At the Academy, he was a classmate of Jimmy Carter’s. In 1977, President Carter appointed him chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. Probably one of his few unsuccessful endeavors was his chairmanship of Carter’s Indiana reelection campaign.

I met Bob when a partner and I purchased radio station WTPI-FM 107.9 (now known as The Track) from Somerset Group. Bob was one in a line of owners that operated the station with little success but sold it to the next fool for a handsome profit. Lucky for us, we weren’t the last fools in the chain.

When I helped establish The National Bank of Indianapolis in 1993, the bank advertised that it was the only locally owned national bank in central Indiana. In 2001, Bob converted First Indiana from a savings and loan to a national bank and trumped us with the advertising slogan, “First Indiana Corp. is the largest locally owned national bank in central Indiana.” Touché.

The M&I purchase might spare us from First Indiana Man. He is the guy with the ugly orange cape and the First Indiana logo on his shirt who was introduced as part of a marketing effort to promote free checking. M&I can do us all a favor by adorning that cape with Kryptonite.

Bob’s community leadership positions have been primarily in the educational sector. They include past terms as president of the board of Indiana University, where he established the Robert H. McKinney professorship in 1992, and as chairman of the boards of IUPUI and Marian College. Bob is a director of the Hudson Institute, the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation and the Sierra Club Foundation.

At a retirement party in 2005, Bob’s daughter, Marni, described the values he instilled in his five children as follows: “Through his influence and example, we developed a love of learning, a desire to understand and appreciate diversity, a sense of duty to serve our community, a concern for the little guy, a non-negotiable standard of integrity and honoring our word, a passion for adventure, a belief in cherishing what we are given whether it is our environment, good fortune or love, and the importance of family to personal happiness and fulfillment in life.”

This column is not meant to be an obituary. Anyone who knows Bob can see an energetic man with a spring to his step and an easy smile. Undoubtedly, he will devote the remainder of his career and much of his new liquidity to enhance lives in central Indiana. I am honored to be one of Bob McKinney’s many friends.

Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns Indianapolis Business Journal. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mmaurer@ibj.comor go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.com.

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