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Mario J. Antoci Named CEO of American S&L; : Home Savings President Will Assume Post When Bass Group Takes Control

Times Staff Writer

Mario J. Antoci, a low-profile but accomplished banker who came up through the ranks of Home Savings of America, will become chairman and chief executive of American Savings & Loan when the ailing financial institution is acquired late this month by Texas tycoon Robert M. Bass, it was confirmed Sunday.

In accepting the job, the 54-year-old Antoci will go from second-in-command at the nation’s largest thrift to the top job at the nation’s second-biggest thrift. Antoci is president and chief operating officer of Home Savings and its Los Angeles-based parent company, H. F. Ahmanson & Co.

Antoci will succeed William J. Popejoy, who has headed American Savings since August, 1984. Popejoy will remain a director with American Savings and will become a principal in the Bass organization, known as the Robert M. Bass Group.

Antoci said the American Savings offer was too tempting professionally and financially to turn down.

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“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Antoci said during a wide-ranging, 75-minute interview in the living room of his waterfront home in Huntington Beach.

Antoci said that under his management, American Savings customers will see better service--fewer long lines, for example--but that interest rates on deposits will be lowered gradually to reduce the thrift’s expenses.

The formal announcement of Antoci’s selection was accompanied by a rare public comment from Bass, a billionaire from Ft. Worth who shuns publicity. A skilled corporate buyout artist, Bass indicated that American Savings will operate traditionally and conservatively.

“Mario has demonstrated that a thrift can prosper in its traditional role--generating residential mortgages with terms and pricing that will meet consumer needs,” Bass said in a prepared statement. “His knowledge of the market, reputation in the industry and proven operating style are exactly what American Savings needs.”

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Antoci’s appointment is another step in the slow process of restoring public confidence in American Savings, which has been in financial turmoil for years. The company is now being being run as a ward of the Federal Savings & Loan Insurance Corp. after heavy losses on real estate development loans wiped out its capital and eroded its deposit base.

The FSLIC placed the financial institution into receivership in September just after it was announced that private investors led by Bass had agreed to pump $550 million in new capital into the company. The FSLIC has agreed to provide a $2-billion assistance package for the sale, which is expected to close between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Big Surprise for Some

Born and raised in the Los Angeles area, Antoci is a certified public accountant who attended night school at UCLA but never graduated. At Home Savings, he is known for his mastery with numbers and his doggedness in solving problems.

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“He gets his teeth into something and he sticks with it,” said the head of a Southern California thrift who asked not to be identified.

On the other hand, the executive said, Antoci is neither especially charismatic nor a motivational leader. “He is not one of those guys who you would necessarily follow to the ends of the earth,” said the executive, who used to work for Antoci.

Antoci’s move comes as a rude surprise to those who had assumed he would take over Home Savings when the current chairman, Richard H. Deihl, 60, retires. Antoci played a low-profile role behind Deihl, who usually acted as company spokesman.

“I hate to see him go,” Deihl said in a telephone interview from his weekend home in San Diego. “He and I are close friends. I brought him into this company 21 years ago. He’s good.”

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Antoci’s first job at Home Savings actually came in 1962 when he was hired as branch manager of the Glendale office. But he left the company in 1964 to work for Southern California Savings and did not return until Deihl brought him back.

Problems Rumored

Both Antoci and Deihl strongly denied speculation that Antoci had fallen from grace within Home Savings because changes in corporate strategy last year caused a sharp drop in earnings. (Ahmanson still made $200 million in 1987.)

“He is not leaving under a cloud,” Deihl said, adding that the chances were “excellent” that Antoci would have been his successor. Deihl said he would take over Antoci’s duties until a replacement is named, adding the next president “probably, but not necessarily” will come from within the company.

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It was last summer that Antoci was first contacted by an executive search firm about working for American Savings as president and chief operating officer. Though not interested in another No. 2 job, Antoci did begin confidential talks with Bass and his representatives, meeting usually in the privacy of Los Angeles-area hotel rooms. He did not sign a formal contract with Bass until Thursday, though he said he decided last month to take the job.

Antoci is going to supervise a privately owned organization that will be divided into two banks--one with about $16 billion in healthy assets and another with more than $14 billion in troubled assets, mainly non-paying loans and money-losing mortgage-backed securities. The assets of the so-called bad bank will be gradually sold off by liquidation specialist Merrill Butler, a senior official at American Savings.

In the interview, Antoci also:

-Said that American Savings will phase out its heavy use of fixed-rate mortgage loans in favor of adjustable-rate home loans.

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-Reiterated that the headquarters of American Savings will remain in Stockton, even though he plans to continue living in Orange County.

-Declined to say how much Bass will pay him, but he suggested that his annual compensation will not be much more than he makes now. (He earned more than $550,000 in salary and bonus at Ahmanson last year.) But Antoci said he will own a small share of American Savings and said his compensation will grow if American Savings does well.


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