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Curtis Graff to retire from NationsBank presidency

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by Paul Flemming

SBJ Staff

Curtis Graff is retiring early four years late. The president of NationsBank Missouri and Illinois Community Banks announced July 27 his intention to retire early in 1999.

"I had sort of a goal in the back of my mind to retire at 55," the 58-year-old Graff said. He will be 59 at the time of his retirement. "Right around that time I had a chance to become CEO of Boatmen's Bank of Southern Missouri. Then the NationsBank opportunity came along."

Graff started his 29-year banking career at Union National Bank in Springfield, soon afterward merged with Boatmen's. He worked as cashier, division head of correspondent banking, marketing and business development, and senior lender for St. Louis-based Boatmen's, culminating in his appointment as chief executive officer, president and chairman of the board for the southwest Missouri banks in 1995.

In September 1996, he began in his current position with NationsBank, which announced its acquisition of Boatmen's in August of that year. There were 20 separately chartered banks in Missouri and Illinois outside major metropolitan areas that are now under NationsBank's single national charter.

Patricia L. Mercurio, now a senior vice president with NationsBank, and a Boatmen's veteran, as well, will succeed Graff.

"He always said he wanted to retire before 65," said Jay Burchfield, who preceded Graff as CEO of Boatmen's in the area.

Burchfield said Graff continued the established performance of the area's Boatmen's banks as the best in the company.

Having marshalled the transition of the former Boatmen's to NationsBank in the 62 banking centers under his leadership, Graff said the move made sense both professionally and personally.

Though the transition to NationsBank has had its challenges, Graff said recent developments have made this the right time to make the move. "Obviously, there's always more work to do," he said.

But in January, Graff and other NationsBank officials said, the fruits of the work done in the transition period began to pay off. Commercial loans, in particular, he said, have picked up. The southeast Missouri and southern Illinois areas under Graff's leadership comprised the No. 1 region in NationsBank's Midwest area, roughly the same as Boatmen's. Southern Missouri finished third. "That's kind of a legacy we can leave," Graff said.

He said the learning curve on NationsBank practices and use of resources available through the company came together at the beginning of the year to bring about improved performance.

Bringing NationsBank's model bank computer system online throughout the former Boatmen's system has been a culmination of Graff's transition work. About a month ago, the model bank program went into operation.

"Although we've put our customers through some things we wish we didn't have to people really don't like change we've retained 90 percent of our customer base," Graff said.

Graff worked at Drury College for eight years, first in the marketing department, then as the college's business manager and finally as assistant to the president, working in development. Graff earned both his undergraduate degree and his MBA from Drury after graduating in Parkview's second class.

He said tending to his family's commercial property investments, fly fishing and spending time with his four granddaughters will occupy his retirement.

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