Well, Back To The Hunt

Wells Fargo Chairman and CEO Carl Reichardt wants to drive his stagecoach outside California. For now, though, he'll stay put: In late February, says the trade paper American Banker, First Interstate Bancorp turned down Wells Fargo's proposal to merge.

Both banks declined to comment. But a team-up makes sense. While archrival BankAmerica continues to take new territory, Wells Fargo has confined its branch system to California. A First Interstate merger would double its asset base and add branches in 13 Western states.

The deal failed, outsiders speculated, because Wells didn't meet First Interstate's price--and because First executives feared they would be pushed aside. Certainly, Reichardt would have retained control. He has steered Wells with a tight hand as CEO since 1983. In 1986, he bought Crocker National, then proceeded to cut 5,700 jobs.

What's next? Reichardt has insisted he won't overpay for the sake of empire building, but he could make another run at First Interstate. At 62, he has a bit over two years until retirement. The betting is Wells will cement a big deal before then.