Head high, Bramble exits

Legacy: Frank P. Bramble retired yesterday as chairman of Allfirst Financial Inc. Some say he was tarnished by the trading debacle

he and others feel that his fine reputation has survived.

May 01, 2002|By Bill Atkinson | Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

In the early 1990s, Frank P. Bramble's reputation soared after he was brought in to help rescue troubled MNC Financial Inc.

Now he has been replaced by someone brought in to revive Allfirst Financial Inc. in the wake of that bank's stunning $691.2 million loss.

Bramble, 53, retired yesterday as chairman of Allfirst and was replaced at the bank's annual meeting by Eugene C. Sheehy, an executive from Allied Irish Banks PLC, Allfirst's Dublin, Ireland-based parent company.

As Bramble leaves behind more than three decades in banking, the question is: What legacy does he leave?

Bramble said he doesn't feel tarnished by the scandal and he believes that others will reach the same verdict if they weigh his performance across the decades.

"I have had a 35-year banking career and look at my entire resume," he said. "I think I have accomplished a lot of good things, never by myself, and I have a lot of people in the industry and community who know those things. An artist can have a bad painting; you have to look at all 40 paintings. My body of work is something that I feel pretty good about."

Many others, both in and outside of banking, agree that Bramble's reputation is secure - especially as the memory of the debacle fades with time.

"Within the industry there is no tarnishing," said Arnold Danielson, a friend of Bramble's and the chairman of Danielson Associates Inc., a Rockville-based bank-consulting firm. "He is likely to feel more tarnished with friends and neighbors than within the industry where people know what happened."

But others who know him as an executive and civic leader as well as industry experts, say Bramble's legacy is mixed.

Some insist that his reputation has been tarnished for good by Allfirst's losses, which the bank announced in February and has blamed on John M. Rusnak, a currency trader who has since been fired and is under federal investigation.

"This, I suppose, changes everything," said Scott Rankin, an analyst at Davy Stockbrokers in Dublin. "If this hadn't happened, people would say he did a pretty good job. I suppose you can argue he wasn't directly responsible for it, but it happened on his watch."

"Given the scale of what happened, it will stick to him," said Keith Baird, a banking analyst at Prudential Bache Ltd. in London. "He is going to be remembered for that."

Christian H. Poindexter, chairman of Constellation Energy Group Inc., of which Bramble is a director, said Bramble, in the end, should be judged "from a broad perspective."

"I think before this," Poindexter added, "he had a pretty good batting average."

People who know him well said the scandal has taken a personal toll on Bramble, weighing on his mind so that he appeared distracted.

"I know he has tried to evaluate how he might or might not have had prior awareness of this," said Donald P. Hutchinson, a friend of Bramble's and president of the Greater Baltimore Committee. "He has concluded that it would have been very difficult" to detect.

An internal investigation into the loss by Eugene A. Ludwig, a former U.S. comptroller of the currency, concluded that Bramble had "no involvement in or knowledge of the improper conduct that took place" at Allfirst.

"It is a very difficult situation for Frank," Hutchinson added. "He has loved the bank, he has loved the employees who have worked for him."

Bramble acknowledged that the last three months haven't been easy.

"This ... for many of us required all of our energies for a very long period of time," he said. "It required a sense of focus and intensity ... that led us all to exhaustion. What I feel badly about is that this fraud has impacted thousands of people in our marketplace. I feel badly for everyone."

A native of Baltimore, Bramble took an unusual route into banking. He did not earn a college degree and he began work in 1966 as an employee of C&P Telephone Co., emptying coins from pay telephones.

A year later, he joined First National Bank of Maryland, the predecessor to Allfirst, as an auditing clerk. He soon jumped to competitor Maryland National Bank and worked as assistant controller, deputy controller and vice president of strategic planning.

"He was a little rough around the edges," said a banker who worked with Bramble but requested anonymity. "He was clearly a bright guy ... and worked his way up."

Bramble joined consultant Arnold Danielson in 1978, and later formed his own bank consulting firm. He returned to Maryland National Bank in 1983 as vice president of its International Division and was put in charge of merging MNC Financial Inc. and Equitable Bancorporation.

Bramble became known for his ability to solve problems.

"That was his single biggest strength - problem-solving. He goes in and solves the problems," Danielson said.

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