He glanced toward Roscoe Heyward. "Of course, I realize that housing mortgages are not a notably high profit area. Yet there are ways to achieve that involvement with excellent profits, too."
One means, he told the listening directors, was through a determined, large-scale expansion of the bank's savings department.
"Traditionally, funds for home mortgages are channeled from savings deposits because mortgages are longterm investments while savings are similarly stable and long-term. The profitability we shall gain by volume far greater than our savings volume now. Thus we win attain a threefold objective profit, fiscal stability, and a major social contribution.
"Only a few years ago large commercial banks like ourselves spurned consumer business, including small savings, as being unimportant. Then, while we dozed, savings and loan associations astutely seized the opportunity we ignored and forged ahead of us, so now they are a main competitor. But still, in personal savings, gigantic opportunities remain. It's likely that, within a decade, consumer business will exceed commercial deposits everywhere and thus become the most important money force existing."
Savings, Alex argued, was only one of several areas where FMA interests could be dramatically advanced.
Still moving restlessly as he spoke, he ranged through other bank departments, describing changes he proposed. Most had been in a report, prepared by Alex Vandervoort at Ben's request a few weeks before the bank president's announcement of his impending death. In the pressure of events it had remained, so far as Alex knew, unread.
One recommendation was to open nine new branches in suburban areas through the state. Another was for a drastic overhaul of FMA organization. Alex proposed to hire a specialist consulting firm to advise on needed changes and he advised the board, "Our efficiency is lower than it should be. The machinery is creaking."
Near the end he returned to his original theme. "Our banking relationship with industry should, of course, continue to be close. Industrial loans and commercial business will remain pillars of our activity. But not the only pillars. Nor should they be overwhelmingly the largest. Nor should we be so preoccupied with bigness that the importance of small accounts, including those of individuals, becomes diminished in our minds.
"The founder of this bank established it to serve those of modest means to whom other banking facilities were denied. Inevitably, the bank's purpose and operations have broadened across a century, yet neither the founder's son nor grandson ever lost sight of those origins or ignored the precept that smallness multiplied can represent the greatest strength of all.
"A massive and immediate growth in small savings, which I urge the board to set as an objective, will honor those origins, enhance our fiscal strength and in the climate of the times advance the public good, which is our own." As they had for Heyward, board members applauded as Alex sat down. Some of the applause was merely polite, Alex realized; perhaps half of the directors seemed more enthusiastic. He guessed that the choice between Heyward and himself could still go either way.
"Thank you, Alex." Jerome Patterton glanced around the table. "Questions, gentlemen?"
The questioning occupied another half hour, after which Roscoe Heyward and Alex Vandervoort left the boardroom together. Each returned to his office to await the board's decision.
The directors debated through the remainder of the morning but failed to reach agreement. They then adjourned to a private dining room for lunch, their discussion continuing over the meal. The outcome of the meeting was still inconclusive when a dining-room steward quietly approached Jerome Patterton, carrying a small silver tray. On it was a single sheet of paper, folded.
The vice-chairman accepted the paper, unfolded and read it. After a pause he rose to his feet and waited while conversation around the luncheon table quietened.
"Gentlemen." Patterton's voice quavered. "I grieve to inform you that our beloved president, Ben Rosselli, died a few minutes ago."
Soon after, by mutual consent and without further discussion, the board meeting was abandoned.
The death of Ben Rosselli attracted international press coverage and some news writers, reaching for the nearest cliche, labeled it "an era's end."
Whether it was, or wasn't, his departure signaled that the last major American bank to be identified with a single entrepreneur had moved into mid-twentieth century conformation, with committee and hired management control. As to who would head the hired management, that decision had been postponed until after the Rosselli funeral when the bank's board of directors would convene again.
The funeral took place on Wednesday in the second week of December.
Both the funeral and a lying-in-state which preceded it were garnished with the full rites and panoply of the Catholic Church, suitable to a papal knight and large cash benefactor which Ben Rosselli was.
The two-day lying-in-state was at St. Matthew's Cathedral, appropriate since Matthew once Levi the tax collector is considered by bankers as a patron saint. Some two thousand people, including a presidential representative, the state governor, ambassadors, civic leaders, bank employees and many humbler souls, filed past the bier and open casket.
On the morning of burial taking no chances an archbishop, a bishop, and a monsignor concelebrated a Mass of the Resurrection. A full choir intoned responses to prayers with reassuring volume. Within the cathedral, which was filled, a section near the altar had been reserved for Rosselli relatives and friends. Immediately behind were directors and senior officers of First Mercantile American Bank.
Roscoe Heyward, dressed somberly in black, was in the first row of bank mourners, accompanied by his wife Beatrice, an imperious, sturdy woman, and their son, Elmer. Heyward, an Episcopalian, had studied the correct Catholic procedures in advance and genuflected elegantly, both before seating himself and on departure later the last a piece of punctilio which many Catholics ignored. The Heywards also knew the Mass responses so that their voices dominated others nearby who didn't. Alex Vandervoort, wearing charcoal gray and seated two rows behind the Heywards, was among the non-responders. An agnostic, he felt out of place in these surroundings, He wondered how Ben, essentially a simple man, would have regarded this ornate ceremony.
Beside Alex, Margot Bracken looked around her with curiosity. Originally Margot had planned to attend the funeral with a group from Forum East, but last night she had stayed at Alex's apartment and he persuaded her to accompany him today. The Forum East delegation a large one was somewhere behind them in the church.
Next to Margot were Edwina and Lewis D'Orsey, the latter looking gaunt and starved as usual and frankly bored. Probably, Alex thought, Lewis was mentally drafting the next edition of his investment newsletter. The D'Orseys had ridden here with Margot and Alex the four of them were often together, not just because Edwina and Margot were cousins, but because they found each other's company agreeable. After the Mass of the Resurrection they would all go to the graveside service.
In the row ahead of Alex were Jerome Patterton, the vice-chairman, and his wife.
Despite his detachment from the liturgy, Alex found tears spring to his eyes as the coffin passed by and was carried from the church. His feeling for Ben, he had realized over the past few days, was close to love. In some ways the old man had been a father figure; his death left a gap in Alex's life which would not be filled. Margot reached gently for his hand and held it.
As mourners began filing out he saw Roscoe and Beatrice Heyward glance their way. Alex nodded and the greeting was returned. Heyward's face softened in an acknowledgment of mutual grief, their feud in recognition of their own, as well as Ben's mortality for this brief moment put aside.
Outside the cathedral, regular traffic had been diverted. The coffin was already in a flower-laden hearse. Now, relatives and bank officials were-getting into limousines being brought up under police direction. A police motorcycle escort, engines running noisily, was at the head of the assembling cortege.
The day was gray and cold with eddies of wind raising dust whorls in the street. High above, the cathedral towers loomed, the whole facade immense and blackened by the grime of years. Snow had been forecast earlier but so far had not appeared.
While Alex signaled for his car, Lewis D'Orsey peered over his half-moon glasses at TV and still cameramen, shooting pictures of the emerging mourners. He observed, "If I find all this depressing, and I do, the reports should Depress FMA stock even more tomorrow."