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S&L Executive Expected to Be New Postal Chief

February 02, 1988|TOM FURLONG | Times Staff Writer

Anthony M. Frank, a colorful innovator in the savings and loan industry, is expected to be named the new head of the U.S. Postal Service today, replacing Preston R. Tisch.

Frank is chief executive of First Nationwide Bank, the nation's sixth-biggest savings and loan. The San Francisco-based financial institution was bought by Ford Motor Co. two years ago for nearly $500 million.

A news conference has been scheduled this morning in Washington to announce the appointment, a spokesman for First Nationwide confirmed. "This has been in the works for a couple of weeks," he said, declining further comment.

Declines Comment

Frank, reached at his Washington hotel room, declined to comment on the appointment.

Postmaster General Tisch, 61, is leaving his post after about 18 months in the job. A multimillionaire and former president of the Loews hotel and theater chain, Tisch announced his intention to leave Jan. 5, saying he wanted to return to private business.

Tisch decried recently mandated cuts aimed at slashing more than $2 billion from the agency's capital-project budget for 1988 and 1989. "We have been forced to defer virtually all new facility construction contracts and reduce expenditures for new equipment and customer convenience service," Tisch said.

25-Cent Stamp

Congress also barred the Postal Service from raising first-class mail rates beyond the 3-cent increase approved for this year. That increase, hiking the price of a stamp to 25 cents, is expected to go into effect in April.

The surprise appointment follows months of frustration for the 56-year-old Frank, who had been trying to engineer a merger between First Nationwide and Stockton-based American Savings & Loan, the nation's largest thrift.

The combination of American Savings and First Nationwide would have created a behemoth financial institution with between $45 billion and $50 billion in assets, an amount that would have dwarfed its nearest competitor in the thrift industry.

Talks Broken Off

But those talks were abruptly broken off last month by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, the nation's primary regulator of savings and loans. The agency has taken the lead in finding a buyer for American Savings, which is suffering severe financial problems.

A German-born, Dartmouth-educated executive, Frank had dreamed of creating the country's first nationwide consumer bank. He has been a visible and vocal executive who provided leadership and flair in his industry, one of the few savings and loan executives who seemed to enjoy the limelight.

Frank is an iconoclastic, yet established figure who drives a 1955 Volkswagen bus and Lincoln Mark VII. He serves on the financial advisory board of San Francisco's Zen Center as well as the board of directors of Dartmouth College's Amos Tuck School of Business Administration.

Frank's company was also an innovator, opening up deposit offices in K mart stores and buying S&Ls from Hawaii to New York as part of its corporate expansion.

One of the directors at First Nationwide, Robert Setrakian, is also a board member at the Postal Service. In fact, Setrakian recently told The Times that he sponsored Frank for membership in the Bohemian Club, an exclusive men's club in San Francisco.

Charles R. Schwab, chief executive officer of Charles Schwab & Co., the nation's largest discount brokerage, called Frank "someone who gets those around him to really like him and respect him." Frank has been on Schwab's board of directors for the past year.

Frank had enjoyed running a publicly traded company because, as he once put it, "I liked to see my report card in the paper every morning," a reference to the company's daily stock price.

Bigger Foothold

But that changed in December, 1985, when Ford Motor, seeking a bigger foothold in financial services, bought the thrift for $493 million. Although Ford's formidable resources appealed to Frank, he also appeared uncharacteristically subdued in his new role for a company directed from headquarters in suburban Detroit.

Frank liked to say that he was so far from the center of power at Ford Motor that even the person he worked for was not on the auto company's board of directors.

"It has been a learning experience for both of us," he said recently, noting that he had traded in his Jaguar for a Lincoln shortly after the sale.

Staff writer Victor Zonana in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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