Frank P. Bramble Sr. may never again hear the satisfying swish of a basketball falling through a hoop, except in driveway games with his children. And he may not be able to recapture the minor glories of high school, where he was team captain, and college -- which in some ways are more important to him than his leadership of Maryland's largest banking company.
But at least he hasn't forgotten the on-court leadership skills that helped him rise from C&P coin collector to the helm of MNC Financial Inc.
Those skills include an appreciation for teamwork, an appealing personality and an unusual ability to be in the right place at the right time.
But now that the hardest work is over, now that MNC has avoided a federal takeover and has signed a deal to be acquired by the nation's fourth-largest banking company, some wonder whether the trouble-shooting skills that made Mr. Bramble a leader in hard times will serve him in better days.
Equally important is the question of his new role, assuming the takeover by Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank Corp. takes place in the next two years, as expected. MNC Chairman Alfred Lerner has told employees that Mr. Bramble, 44, will head NationsBank's Maryland operations once the merger occurs. NationsBank's only comment, through a spokesman, is that its $200 million investment in MNC "probably said something about our feeling of confidence in the management of the company. . . ."
For his part, Mr. Bramble won't talk about where his career may be headed. "The future has a way of taking care of itself," he said.
That's an understandable sentiment coming from someone who started his professional life without a college degree, collecting coins from pay phones in the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone system. "I used to know how many telephones were in the stadium, in the civic arena."
If he'd had his druthers, Mr. Bramble would have stayed with Calvert Hall College, a high school that breeds unusual loyalty among alumni.
"I loved that school. I wanted to go back there after school and teach and coach. I didn't do that, but at least I'm on the board," Mr. Bramble said, even as he downplayed his skills on the court.
Art Casserly, one of Mr. Bramble's closest friends from youth, remembers things differently. "He was better than OK," Mr. Casserly said.
"He got more than his fair share of rebounds, not because of his jumping ability, but because he knew where the ball would be," recalled Mr. Casserly, who years later followed Mr. Bramble to Maryland National Bank. Mr. Casserly now oversees community lending services at MBNA America Bank N.A., a subsidiary of the Delaware company that MNC sold almost two years ago.
Mr. Bramble, in his teens when he first married, played only one year of ball at Towson State College before he left to work for C&P. In 1966, with one child, one on the way and the money tight, he took an accounting job at First National Bank of Maryland, and a year and a half later moved to Maryland National's accounting department at age 20.
Mr. Bramble worked his way up in accounting, not the usual path to banking's highest ranks, which tend to be reserved for the "top guns," the commercial lenders. Still, in 1979 he was assistant comptroller of a nearly $4 billion company when he decided to leave.
Attracted by the independence of consulting, he followed a former Maryland National colleague, Arnold G. Danielson, who had left a year earlier to set up Danielson Associates Inc., now based in Rockville.
The new work was stimulating, but with two children from his first marriage, which had ended, and three more in his new family, the time and money pressures of consulting began to catch up to him. Mr. Danielson recalls that at one point, "I had to sell him my car for a dollar so he could get to work."
In 1984 Maryland National lured Mr. Bramble back with a job in international banking, where he could fulfill a desire to learn how to lend. Two years later, though, he was transferred back to the comptroller's office. It was the right place at the right time, ironically, because he would be shielded him from the fallout of the company's tremendous loan problems five years later.
When Chairman Alan Hoblitzell launched his expansion drive for Maryland National in 1987 by buying American Security Bank in Washington, he entrusted Mr. Bramble with the consolidation. As much as anything else, observers recall, it was Mr. Bramble's affable nature that eased the merger between two distinctly different companies.
The next stop was Richmond, Va., where Mr. Bramble was sent in 1988 to run the newly acquired Virginia Federal Savings Bank. He returned to Baltimore in 1989 to complete the merger with Equitable Trust Co.
But storm clouds were gathering for MNC, which was the nation's 27th-largest banking company, with about $25 billion in assets and a very profitable credit-card operation.