Ted Strauss and His Bank Join the Holding Pattern

Free spirit sells out to free enterprise

Here in the land of the holding company, the independent banker has a peculiar plight: If successful, he quickly outgrows his own independence. Consider the case of Ted Strauss and his very successful United National Bank.

Four years ago, Strauss obtained a charter for an independent bank to serve down-town Dallas. At the time, First National and Republic (both owned by large holding companies) controlled 80 percent of the downtown bank deposits. No new bank had dared enter the market in ten years; many doubted that an independent bank could compete with the tremendous assets of the holding companies. Strauss was making a bold move, and he played the adventurer’s role to the hilt, touting the opportunity for an independent alternative.

During the last four years, Strauss’ United National has done exceptionally well, growing into a $67-million bank, mostly by serving mid-sized corporate customers. But in the last year. United has been going after corporations so large that the bank was hard-pressed to handle their business, United’s loan limit being just too small for many big-time Texas corporations. “We were like a 16-year-old,” says Strauss, “too old to be a boy and too young to be a man.”

Conditions began changing at the bank. United’s president, J. W. Smith, resigned after a tiff with Strauss, and its executive vice president, Lamar Ealy, left for greener pastures. Strauss was left alone at the top as United reached the practical limits on the speed of its growth as an independent bank. He decided to sell out. Strauss opted to join the holding company movement and recently announced that United National hopes to merge with First City (downtown’s fourth largest bank, formerly Texas Bank). IT the merger is approved, United will become part of First City Bancorpora-tion, a holding company headquartered in Houston.

Among those profiting from the end of independence is a group of 20 investors (headed by LTV chairman Paul Thay-er and Texas Oil & Gas honorary chairman Louis Beecherl), which recently purchased 200,000 shares of newly issued United stock, just before Strauss quietly negotiated the merger. Their new First City stock will produce a nifty 27 percent profit. “They were at the right place at the right time,” Strauss quips. The big winner, though, is Ted Strauss. If the merger is approved, Strauss will vault from the chairmanship of his $67-mil-lion bank to the chairmanship of the newly merged $400-million bank, bumping aside First City’s current chairman, James Denton. And Strauss has reportedly won a very lucrative contract from the holding company. Maybe the plight of the independent banker just isn’t all that sad.

Heard on the Street…

. . . The Channel 4 news anchor seat next to Judy Jordan, recently vacated by Ray Walker, has apparently attracted a lot of interest from local media lights. Dick Hitt (of the Herald and KN US) auditioned and landed a spot on the 5:30 newscast. Among the other notables said to have shown more than a passing interest in the job are Ron Chapman of KVIL, John Criswell of Channel 8, and Ward Andrews, formerly of Channel 5. Sources also say that Channel 8 anchorman Tracy Rowlett was offered the job along with a hefty salary boost, but Rowlett said no.

… In the midst of Ranger baseball fever, we’ve heard several good Cowboy barroom rumors lately. (You can take them or leave them.) Such as, that plain-living Roger Staubach is building a new house with seven bath-rooms and a copper roof. Or that the Pokes are worried about their offensive line and have hinted that guard Burton Lawless might be available in trade for a high #1 draft pick. But our favorite one: Tom Landry will hang up his cleats after a few more seasons to become a senatorial candidate in 1982 for Lloyd Bentsen’s seat.

… In case you’re wondering, that big white ranch house belonging to oilman Jock Ewing on the CBS “Dallas” series is the real life Frisco, Texas home of Dallas oilman Cloyce Box.

. . . The recent promotion of Ward Huey to executive vice-president of Belo Broadcasting (Channel 8, etc.) makes him heir apparent to president Mike Shapiro. However, it may be a while before the energetic Shapiro steps down – he and Belo are presently looking to buy another major television station, one in a medium-sized market somewhat smaller than Dallas.

. . . Most close observers say that Nolan Estes’ recent talk of candidacy for a Carter cabinet post (as Secretary of Education) is his latest phase of well-crafted personal politics – and aimed at the top. His new job at UT-Austin will give the necessary “’higher education” credentials; and though Estes has claimed business conflicts with the cabinet post, one associate says frankly, “If Jimmy Carter gives him a call, I can’t imagine Estes saying no.”

. . . Former entertainment writer and jack-of-all-arts at the Times Herald, Don Safran is now living in L.A. working as a screenwriter. We’re told that the upcoming fall pilot television season may find his work on the airwaves.


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