THE "M" IN MBNA Corp. once meant Maryland, where the now $30 billion credit-card operation of the former Maryland National Bank was born and based.
But the "M" stood for move in 1982, when the firm transferred its headquarters to Delaware after a battle with Maryland over restrictions on card fees and interest rates.
Then-Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs' fight to block credit card fees and retain tight limits on the interest that lenders could charge seemed foolish and myopic even back then, but especially in hindsight given the increased competition, drop in interest rates and the public's willingness to incur heavier amounts of plastic debt. When MBNA moved to Newark and burgeoned into Delaware's second-largest private employer, the "M" for Maryland might as well as have stood for missed opportunity, too.
Fortunately, the company now wants to establish a regional headquarters in the Baltimore area, with the prospect of 2,000 FTC high-paying jobs. It would be the largest private-sector relocation to the region since General Electric Co. opened an appliance factory in Columbia a quarter-century ago. The return of a firm with historic roots here is great news for the state, which has presided over too many corporate and banking defections. (MBNA maintains a sales center in Towson with 350 employees, but that won't be affected.)
Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and former Sen. Francis X. Kelly have relied on their long personal ties to Charles Cawley, MBNA's chief executive, to keep the Baltimore area high in the running.
After becoming county executive, Mr. Ruppersberger dispatched his administrators to MBNA for management training, received political donations from the firm and visited Mr. Cawley at his vacation estate in Maine. When Mr. Ruppersberger told a reporter that, "Charlie Cawley would love to have me run for governor," Mr. Cawley upped the ante: "We'd like him to run for president of the United States."
This story is about the power of relationships in business. Speculation over what it might mean to Mr. Ruppersberger's potential as a gubernatorial candidate should not obscure the fact that he has been a stalwart proponent of a regional approach toward economic development, from helping keep a McCormick spice project in Maryland to his refusal to undercut the city's fragile convention trade.
Whatever site MBNA chooses, we welcome its return in a major way to Maryland.
Pub Date: 1/17/97