The Careful Navigator Who'll Soon Be At The Helm

Bill Ferguson wasn't surprised back in 1986 when Walter Shipley called to ask him to head up the New York Blood Center's cor-porate-donor program. After all,corporate chieftains tap one another for charity work all the time. But Ferguson, then president of New York Telephone, had plenty of reasons ready for why he couldn't spare the time. Then, he says, Shipley surprised him: By the way, Bill, he said, your term would be in 1990 and 1991. With no detailed plans for his free timefour years hence, Ferguson agreed.

That kind of patient, deliberate planning is typical of Shipley. He still lives in the town in which he was raised--Summit, N.J.--and he's still happily married to his high school sweetheart. His choice of profession was a continuation of a family tradition: Shipley's father, L. Parks Shipley, is a partner at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., and his brother, L. Parks Shipley III, was a longtime senior official at Irving Bank Corp.

THREE LOVES. Shipley is deliberate in sports as well. Like any banker worth his salt, he is an avid golfer. Robert E. Allen, chairman and CEO of American Telephone & Telegraph Co. and a close friend of Shipley's, says that for both of them, golf is their third love, behind family and work. Shipley and Allen are part of a regular foursome who travel to Ireland and Scotland to play the major golf courses there.

Shipley's patience comes into play most clearly at work, though. To close the 1991 merger with Manufacturers Hanover Corp., he agreed to let Manny Hanny Chief Executive John F. McGillicuddy take over as CEO of the new Chemical Banking Corp. for two years. "He has never had a second guess about the arrangement," Allen says. In fact, in a photograph in the bank's 1992 annual report, the 6-foot, 8-inch Shipley, perhaps the tallest banking president in the U.S., chose to take a literal backseat to the 5-foot, 11-inch McGillicuddy by positioning his chair slightly back from the other man's so as not to tower over him.

Compared with the affable, outspoken McGillicuddy, who with his cigars and pin-striped suits often resembles a banker from central casting, Shipley comes across more like a Morgan Stanley investment banker: soft-spoken, polite, reserved, somewhat private. In ability, though, Shipley is fully McGillicuddy's equal. "He is one hell of a bright cookie," says an analyst. "Ifyou can break through the social graces, you will find a very contem-plative man--and that's rare among bank CEOs."

The only apparent deviation from a seemingly preprogrammed career path occurred at Williams College, where he went after graduating from public high school in Summit. He left after three years, he says, having "not applied myself as rigorously as I did in later life." In New York, he got a job at New York Trust Co., and when that bank was acquired by Chemical, Shipley stayed on. He earned his bachelor's degree from New York University, taking classes at night with the help of Chemical's tuition-assistance program. He rose through the ranks of corporate banking to become chairman and chief executive officer in 1983.

At 57, Shipley still looks boyish. But he's serious about his mission at Chemical. He had better be: As incoming steward of the first banking megamerger of the 1990s, it's not just his height that's putting Walter Shipley in the spotlight.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE