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Banowsky Has Had Erratic Career : Ranged From Pulpit to Classroom and Politics to Business

March 15, 1989|JESUS SANCHEZ | Times Staff Writer

William S. Banowsky has zigged and zagged from the pulpit to the classroom to the board room.

On Tuesday, the life of the 53-year-old former teen-age preacher and one-time president of Pepperdine University took another sharp turn. It was officially disclosed that Banowsky, now a vice president at National Medical Enterprises, agreed to pay $754,000 in fines and penalties to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle insider trading charges.

While serving on the board of directors at Thrifty Corp. in 1986, Banowsky passed along confidential information concerning an upcoming takeover to friends and relatives, according to his settlement agreement with the SEC. Banowsky himself did not trade any stock, but the people he informed did and made an estimated $442,837 in profit.

It was a humiliating development for a deeply religious man whose charisma and ambition had catapulted him into positions of power and prominence at a young age.

As a young man, Banowsky was the minister at a Lubbock, Tex., church where his sermons increased attendance 50%. "It was a very thrilling kind of an ego thing," Banowsky said in a 1975 Times interview.

Impressed by his religious fervor and speaking ability, the Church of Christ enlisted Banowsky to debate moral issues against liberal thinkers, such as Rev. James A. Pike, as well as the religion editor of Playboy magazine.

In 1971, Banowsky, at age 34, became president of Pepperdine University and developed a reputation as a determined, even zealous, leader. Under his direction, the university raised more than $40 million and moved from South Central Los Angeles to a stunning campus by the ocean in Malibu. Enrollment jumped from 1,000 students to 8,000.

Political Conservative

He also met with controversy. In 1975, The Times revealed that Banowsky was one of four top university officials who received money from a secret fund to supplement their income. No civil or criminal actions were ever filed.

Besides his role as an educator, Banowsky was also prominent in conservative political circles. Once considered a young rising star in the Republican Party, Banowsky was a major fund-raiser for then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan and a candidate for a top job at the Interior Department under President Gerald R. Ford. He was approached about making a run for governor himself in 1973, but he declined.

In 1978, Banowsky left Pepperdine to head the University of Oklahoma. A few years later, Banowsky returned to Southern California to head the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. But after only six weeks, Banowsky returned to Oklahoma, saying he had made a major mistake.

Despite his short stay, chamber officials say Banowsky made quite an impression with the staff and with community groups. "He was an incredible speaker," said chamber Vice President Michael J. Colton. "He spoke without notes and he never failed to get a standing ovation."

Joined Local firm

Once again, in 1984, Banowsky left Oklahoma for the business world. He headed Dallas-based Gaylord Broadcasting, one of the nation's largest privately owned broadcasting companies.

Last October, Banowsky returned to Los Angeles as an executive vice president at National Medical Enterprises, where he had served on the company's board of directors since 1977. A company spokesman said Banowsky has no specific duties.

Banowsky also was a board member of Thrifty, a Los Angeles-based drugstore and sporting goods chain in May, 1986, when it was acquired by Pacific Lighting, the parent of Southern California Gas. The company is now called Pacific Enterprises, and Thrifty is a wholly owned subsidiary.

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