Shareholders Bid Farewell as Golden West Heads Into Sunset

The Associated Press

Golden West Financial Corp. shareholders approved the company’s sale to Wachovia Corp. on Thursday, moving a step closer to ending the 43-year reign of the savings and loan’s folksy co-chief executives, Herb and Marion Sandler -- the only married couple running a Fortune 500 business.

The Sandlers’ quaint odyssey began in 1963 when they moved from New York to buy a two-branch thrift in the Bay Area for $4 million and vowed to maintain a personal touch even as Golden West’s main franchise -- World Savings -- grew into an industry powerhouse.

That homespun feel remained evident Thursday as a couple of dozen shareholders gathered in a small room at Golden West’s Oakland headquarters to snack on cookies and listen to the Sandlers address them for a final time.


“Isn’t that neat?” said longtime shareholder Phyliss Linton Peterson of San Leandro, Calif., as she watched Herb tease Marion before the meeting. “It’s like watching mom and dad.”

The sale to Wachovia is expected to be completed in October, contingent on regulatory approval.

Wachovia shareholders also approved the deal, currently valued at about $24 billion, on Thursday in a meeting held a few hours before Golden West’s.

The acquisition would strengthen the presence of Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia in California and other Western states as it snaps up the nearly 300 branches and $134 billion in assets held by the World Savings franchise.

No matter how hard Wachovia tries, things won’t be the same in World Savings’ branches without Herb and Marion in the picture, said Bert Ely, a financial services consultant in Alexandria, Va.

After the sale is completed, the Sandlers will advise the new management, although they say they won’t be filling the two spots on Wachovia’s board that are being reserved for Golden West executives.

The sale was difficult for Marion Sandler to contemplate when it was announced in May, she said, but she seemed happy Thursday. “It’s a fitting climax,” she said in an interview. “It’s the right thing for everyone involved.”

Long known for his levity, Herb Sandler made sure Golden West’s meeting didn’t become a maudlin affair, largely because he avoided reading the emotional testimonials that have poured in from World Savings customers.

“Some of us will find this a very moving and unusual moment,” he told shareholders during one of the few moments he appeared to choke up.

Allan Bortel, a Golden West shareholder for more than 30 years, thought the proceedings important enough to videotape for his grandchildren.

“There has never been anything like [Golden West] and I don’t know there will ever be the likes of it again,” said Bortel, a retired savings and loan analyst who credits the Sandlers for helping him understand the industry.

The couple say they will devote much of their attention to ensuring that the Golden West workers laid off in the takeover find new jobs. The Sandlers are hoping that only a few hundred of the company’s 13,000 workers are jettisoned after Wachovia takes control.