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BUSINESS APRIL 27, 1998 VOL. 151 NO. 16


By JOSHUA COOPER RAMO


ugh McColl is what southerners call "a firecracker of a man." He is a tiny stick of dynamite: 5 ft. 6 3/4 in. tall, with a big mouth and a short fuse. Once, deep into a negotiation to grab a billion-dollar bank, he waited for words until an idea materialized somewhere out of that Marine Corps (1957-59) mind, and he unloaded over the phone at the poor gentleman on the other end: "My board is meeting, and we've gone too far. I've got to launch my missiles!" (The not-so-gentlemanly reply, reported later in the press: "Go the hell back to North Carolina.") McColl never fit with the other good ole boys sitting around Charlotte in the 1960s, talking about how they were going to get rich, what they were going to do with all their money. McColl--who worked for a bank!--didn't talk about money at all.

He talked about power.

Hugh McColl of NationsBank

Najlah Feanny-- Saba for TIME

These days he has plenty of both. In the past 10 years, as international banks have struggled with competitors from American Express to America Online, McColl has engineered a kind of banking miracle in homey Charlotte, a deus ex machina where the machina is his very own NationsBank automated-teller machines, and the deus wears cowboy boots. Last week McColl announced the boldest deal yet: a plan to merge NationsBank with California-based BankAmerica to create a golden Godzilla with deposits of $346 billion. On Wall Street, where financial stocks have sizzled this year, the marriage was greeted with huge plaudits. On Main Street, average customers (the combined bank will have millions of them) worried about what this would mean for their accounts. And in Charlotte? McColl wasn't talking, having unloaded the big news in New York City early in the week. But from his 50th-floor office, he was surely reflecting on the inescapable truth and beauty of the First Law of Godzilla: Size does matter.

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