Hale among the candidates for next CEO of St. Joe Corp. Company is largest private landowner in Florida

August 06, 1996|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore shipping executive and banker Edwin F. Hale Jr. is a candidate to head a Jacksonville-based real estate concern that is Florida's largest private landowner.

An official with an executive search firm hired by St. Joe Corp., confirmed that Hale is under consideration for the job of chairman and chief executive.

Hale is chairman of Hale Intermodal Transport Co., a Canton-based trucking and barge company, and First Mariner Bank.

"We are very interested in Ed Hale," said Robert Beatty, managing partner with the Curtiss Group International, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based executive search firm. "We are very impressed with Ed Hale because of his reputation."

Beatty said the search was in its infancy, and the list of names could reach more than 20 before it is presented to St. Joe's board members on Aug. 13. The company wants to hire the new chairman and chief executive by late fall, he said.

St. Joe officials did not return phone calls, and a board member who is heading the search was unavailable for comment.

St. Joe Corp. has $1.5 billion in assets, $500 million in cash and owns 1.2 million acres of land in Florida. About 70 percent of the company is held by the Alfred I. duPont Testamentary Trust.

Over the past two years, St. Joe Corp. has undergone a major reorganization. The company, formally known as St. Joe Paper Co., has divested its paper and pulp mill operations, communications division, sugar plantation and railroad. In May, the company's chairman and chief executive, W. L. Thornton, said he would retire as St. Joe refocuses the business.

"They are looking for someone who can come in and figure out what St. Joe should do going into the next century," Beatty said.

"The next chairman and CEO will probably be a real strong financial strategist," said Beatty, who noted that Hale was put on the firm's list after his name came up in conversations with business contacts. "Somebody who knows what it means to buy and sell businesses. It is going to be somebody who has done some creative things."

Hale, 49, said the chance to run St. Joe is a "remarkable opportunity." He said he is in the prime of his career and if he didn't go for the job he would regret the decision.

"The scope of this is huge," Hale said. "I would never consider something like this at all except for the magnitude of this position."

If he is offered the job, Hale said, he would move to Jacksonville, but he would like to remain chairman of First Mariner, a community bank based in Canton that he started 13 months ago.

"I can't disassociate myself from the bank," he said, especially when the institution is about to raise money through an initial stock offering.

Hale Intermodal would be run by his son 30-year-old son Edwin, Stephen Jones, the chief executive, and Harry Lipsitz, the chief financial officer, he said.

Hale said he made similar changes in 1991 when he lead a coup to take over over Baltimore Bancorp. Hale became something of a hero after turning around the $3.5 billion-asset banking company, which he later sold to First Fidelity Bancorp., of Lawrenceville, N.J.

First Fidelity has since been acquired by Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union Corp.

Pub Date: 8/06/96

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