Maryland feels 'Tony the Tiger's' claws

The Economy

September 18, 1995|By Jay Hancock

TONY TERRACIANNO, master and connoisseur of the banking layoff, cut $7.4 million from First Fidelity Bancorp.'s annual operating expenses between January and June. Precisely of that was the salary of Robert Maranto.

Mr. Terracianno, whom employees call "Tony the Tiger," is chairman and chief executive officer of First Fidelity.

Mr. Maranto, whom friends call "Bob," is the ex-assistant treasurer of the Bank of Baltimore.

The men don't know each other, but their lives have touched. Collided, actually. Mr. Terracianno fired Mr. Maranto, 58, last March. He also fired 500 other Bank of Baltimore workers after First Fidelity bought the local institution.

It wasn't a surprise. Banks everywhere are coupling like Mayflies in July, and each time they do, hundreds or thousands of people suffer. So do regional economies. Maryland has lost 7,500 banking jobs since 1990.

By whacking worker costs, bankers hope to pile profits at a merged bank higher than both banks could have made separately. It's the way of Wall Street, and if bank bosses did any differently they would be fired by shareholders.

Still, Tony the Tiger is a keen whacker.

"He has perfected the art of cost cutting better than just about anybody in the industry," said Nancy Avans Bush, who follows First Fidelity for Brown Brothers Harriman, a New York investment firm. "When he first came to First Fidelity [in 1990], he had to do the meat ax stuff, which he did quite effectively. But beyond that he took it to a daily discipline. He continued the ratcheting."

Of course, Mr. Terracianno didn't personally fire Mr. Maranto or the other local bankers. He doesn't know them, hasn't seen how Mr. Maranto is doing on the $16,000 salary at his new job. That's the way it always works. In New Jersey, Baltimore people are numbers on a ledger.

But Mr. Maranto, who worked for the Bank of Baltimore for 33 years, agreed to talk in an interview about the good and the bad of post-layoff real life.

Mr. Terracianno might be interested in a glimpse at one-five-hundredth of the human and economic change he has wrought in Maryland.

Tony, meet Bob.

"I really liked it" at the bank, Mr. Maranto said recently in the living room of his Catonsville brick home. "I loved the work. I loved working for people. I loved working for fellow employees. And all of a sudden to see that I'm not going to make it to 62 or or whenever I wanted to retire, it hurt. It sounds tacky to say it, but back in the old days, we were one happy family."

The family is busted up now. Some members got jobs at other banks. Some left the industry. Some are still unemployed. Most are making less money. Mr. Maranto considers himself among the fortunate. He got a position as a clerk at the Baltimore County Register of Wills office right after he left First Fidelity.

The pay is about a third his old salary. He's thrilled to have it.

"I was quite lucky compared to a lot of other people," he said. "God knows what I would have done. When you're 58 years old, you don't have people pounding on your door."

His wife has a job. Their four boys have graduated from Catholic high school, so tuition bills have stopped. The house still has a $35,000 mortgage, but Mr. Maranto will have a small pension from the bank -- $13,000 yearly. He got six months' severance pay.

Still, the Marantos won't be spending money like they used to. Season tickets to Center Stage and the opera are doubtful.

"I'm happy. Count my blessings," he said. "You look at the horror stories out there -- younger people with little kids being put out on the street. . . . If it had happened when the kids were young, when they were going to St. Joe's, that would have been really horrible."

The main emotion Mr. Maranto seems to exude is disappointment. Disappointment that the company he knew vanished. Disappointment that the skills he polished are unwanted.

He started as a teller in 1961. The Savings Bank of Baltimore, it was called then.

"You were there for life if you behaved yourself, did your job," he said. "No one ever guessed this would happen. Savings Bank of Baltimore was founded in 1818. I mean, it survived the Civil War and all these panics and the big Depression and never lost a nickel. And we bragged about it. . . . Younger guys would come in and say, 'You know why I'm here? Because my father said I had to come here. He said you'll never lose anything there.'

"That kind of loyalty, you know? It was really neat."

At the peak of his powers, as assistant treasurer, he was in charge of international funds transfer, wire transfers, the pension fund's cash account, automatic interest payments and other duties.

He had ample warning of the turmoil.

After a proxy fight several years ago, the bank's management changed. Old-timers started being let go.

One day a colleague emerged shaken from his boss' office. "I said, 'What's wrong?' " Mr. Maranto said. "He said, 'That's it. I've got to clean my desk out. I'm finished.' "

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