Frank P. Bramble Sr., who resigned as chairman of NationsBank of Maryland in December, will move one block north to become president and chief executive officer of his former competitor, First Maryland Bancorp, parent of the First National Bank of Maryland.
Mr. Bramble, 45, will take over the state's second largest banking company April 4, just six months after NationsBank took over MNC Financial Inc., parent of Maryland National and American Security banks. When he announced in October that he would be leaving MNC, Mr. Bramble said he wanted to run a corporation -- something that would not be possible as control of MNC passed to Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank Corp.
Yesterday's announcement was welcome news to some in Baltimore's business community who feared the region would lose one of its most active civic leaders. And it ended speculation about who would replace Charles W. Cole Jr., 58, who served for 10 years as CEO of First Maryland before announcing his early retirement at the end of January.
Mr. Cole's last scheduled day is June 30, but bank officials said yesterday that it was not yet clear if he would stay that long now that Mr. Bramble has been named.
Mr. Bramble, as president and CEO of MNC, helped to rescue Maryland's largest banking company after its near-collapse in 1991 and to see it through to its sale to NationsBank last fall.
"After the four years we had at MNC I needed a little time off," Mr. Bramble said yesterday.
Now Mr. Bramble said he's ready to get back to work for "a very vital, healthy banking institution." Although noncompete agreements are customary for departing top executives, "Mr. Bramble did not avail himself of any [separation] agreement that would have" barred him from the banking industry when he left NationsBank, according to Jeremiah E. Casey, chairman of First Maryland, which is owned by Allied Irish Group PLC, of Dublin, Ireland.
"Mr. Bramble brings an exceptional breadth of experience and superior skills," Mr. Casey said. "He is highly respected in the industry and in the community." Mr. Casey added that his company has a well-established team, and there is no reason to expect a stampede of former MNC executives to First Maryland.
Mr. Bramble now faces a far different challenge than his last assignment. First Maryland, with $9.5 billion in assets and 170 branches in Maryland, Washington and Pennsylvania, has the second-largest share of the state's banking deposits, behind NationsBank. It has been among the most profitable companies of any kind in the state, with a 20 percent annual growth in earnings during the last decade.
But the company now must compete with the vastly larger NationsBank and with other out-of-state entrants such as First Union Corp., also from Charlotte. First Maryland must find a way to retain and expand its presence in the region, even as nonbanking companies continue to eat away at many of the industry's sources of revenue.
Because it is wholly owned by Allied Irish, First Maryland is seen as less susceptible to a takeover than other similarly sized companies in the area. In fact, at a security analysts meeting in New York a year ago, Mr. Casey indicated that the company intends to acquire others in the region with between $2 billion and $3 billion in assets. It has been one of the banks rumored to be considering a bid for Baltimore Bancorp, a rumor both companies decline to discuss.
"We intend to supplement our organic growth with growth by acquisition," Mr. Casey said yesterday. Last fall the company made its first-ever sale of preferred stock: $150 million worth, some of it to be used for possible acquisitions.
Mr. Bramble's skills in coordinating mergers -- he conducted three of them while at MNC -- helped make him an attractive candidate as CEO, Mr. Casey noted.
"It was part of the wide scope of expertise that Frank brings to the job," he said.
Mr. Bramble's resume also includes wide experience with civic and philanthropic activities, such as service on the boards of the University of Maryland Medical System, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Baltimore City Life Museums, the Maryland Business Council and the vice chairmanship of the Greater Baltimore Committee.
"It's close to the best news that any of us have had for a long time," said Decatur Miller, chairman of the GBC. "This guy is such a terrific business leader and such a terrific person. It's just wonderful that he's staying in town."
Of particular interest to the GBC, Mr. Miller said, is Mr. Bramble's chairmanship of the group's leadership academy, a year-old effort to train city school principals and others in management skills. "It's our major public education initiative," Mr. Miller said.
Mr. Bramble also is chairman of the Mayor's Economic Advisory Council, a group of business leaders that meets four times a year to discuss business and other issues with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
"Charlie Cole's leaving First National is a great loss to the community," said GBC President Donald P. Hutchinson. "But the fact that he's being replaced by someone like Frank Bramble, who has a real history in the community, we think is quite beneficial."