WHO’S ON TOP AT REPUBLIC?

Being the right man at the right time can make all of the difference in the world. So it is with Jim Berry, who has just taken over the chairmanship of Republic of Texas, one of the state’s two largest bank holding companies.

For the last year Dallas banking circles had been speculating whether Republic’s board would choose Berry, 56, or Jim Keay, 55, as chairman of Republic’s holding company. Berry and Keay’s careers ran neck and neck at Republic until 1965, when Keay vaulted past Berry to become president of Republic National Bank. Keay was tapped for the bank’s presidency because of his superb technical knowledge and his brilliant administrative abilities. Berry, best known for his negotiating talents and charming personality, clearly was not the better administrator. When Republic formed a fledgling bank holding company in 1967, Berry became its president, taking him out of the day-to-day banking business.

But times change and 10 years later Berry found himself in Republic’s mainstream – acquiring banks for its holding company. Such a task calls for a man with Berry’s charm and negotiating abilities, so this time when Republic’s board had to pick between Berry and Keay, they chose Berry.

Berry replaces James Aston, 67, as chairman of Republic’s holding company. Aston took over the bank’s presidency 20 years ago and began transforming the bank from a one-man show, run by Fred Florence, into a team-managed billion dollar bank.

Perhaps Aston’s crowning achievement was the recent $60 million sale of Republic’s oil, gas and real estate properties. Aston steadfastly refused several years ago to precipitously jettison the properties and leap into the bank holding company race. While other large Texas banks were buying up smaller banks right and left, Republic stood on the sidelines trying to negotiate a deal which would recognize the enormous potential value of its undeveloped oil and gas leases.

The Republic acquisition till is a little fuller because of some work Berry handled that aptly illustrates why he was chosen chairman. Berry shepherded a bill through Congress last year which allows Republic to pay $10 million in taxes from the sale of its oil, gas and real estate properties over 10 years, instead of immediately. In effect, that gives Republic use of an extra $55 million dollars over the next 10 years, which should earn the bank about five million. That’s the sort of thing which impresses a board of directors.

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