CEO of First National Bank to retire

January 29, 1994|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer Staff writer Timothy J. Mullaney contributed to this article.

Charles W. Cole Jr., the chief executive officer of the First National Bank of Maryland and a longtime member of a dwindling local corps of influential corporate citizens, said yesterday that he will retire from the company after 32 years.

Mr. Cole, 58, has served 10 years as chief executive and 17 years aspresident and chief administrative officer of First National and its parent company, First Maryland Bancorp. A Baltimore native, he spent his entire career at the company, now a subsidiary of Allied Irish Group Plc, of Dublin, Ireland.

"I have never worked anywhere else," Mr. Cole said in an interview yesterday. "This institution is in my chromosomes."

But after 10 years at the helm, a decade in which the company's annual profits rose from $18 million to $114 million last year, Mr. Cole said he's ready to take a break. "We have climbed Mount Everest, andit's that magical moment when it's time for me to smell the roses a bit," he said.

Mr. Cole, who graduated from Gilman School and from Washington and Lee University, said he's not sure when he will step down. The company has not named a successor.

Mr. Cole's resignation will be the latest departure among a generation of Baltimore corporate leaders who have shaped the region's growth in the last 20 years.

Some CEOs, like Jack Moseley of USF&G Corp. and Alan Hoblitzell of MNC Financial Inc., left companies that had been weakened by mismanagement, recession or both. Others left after their companies were acquired by out-of-state institutions.

Although First Maryland is owned by a foreign company, its management has remained largely in Baltimore.

Mr. Cole's announcement came as a surprise to some of Baltimore's business leaders. "I kind of view him as one of the senior statesmen of this community," said Kenneth Trout, president and CEO of Signet Bank/Maryland. "I'm kind of surprised and very disheartened to see he's leaving."

Mr. Cole did not rule out returning to the work force at some point.

"I don't want to put a fence around a statement, because there very well might be another Mount Everest out there," he said.

Because First Maryland is still locally managed, Mr. Cole's successor will have the power to fill the vacuum that the departure will create. But the loss to the community will be more difficult to compensate for, as Mr. Cole has been an unusually active and involved executive.

He is a regent of the University of Maryland System, from whose night law school he graduated early in his career, and he is on the board of the University of Maryland Foundation. He serves on the Governor's Commission on School Funding, the boards of the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Maryland Business Council, the Baltimore Council on Foreign Affairs, the Baltimore Zoo, and Baltimore Reads Inc.

As chief executive at First Maryland, Mr. Cole was able to avoid some of the problems that nearly destroyed other Baltimore banking companies, especially an overindulgence in unwise commercial real estate loans.

First Maryland's chairman, Jeremiah Casey, said in a statement that the company's more than 20 percent annual growth in profits during Mr. Cole's 10 years as CEO "stands as a testament to the manner in which he profitably steered this company through an often hazardous economic terrain."

With $9.5 billion in assets, and 170 branches in Maryland, Washington and Pennsylvania, First Maryland has the second-largest share of deposits in the state, behind NationsBank Corp.

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