Honor The Legacy Leave The OK Park Name
The compression of two businesses into one eliminates duplication, strengthens products and services and maintains a competitive edge resulting in savings for the consumer and stockholder benefits. The initial steps of the consolidation of Fifth Third Bancorp and Old Kent Bank, however, were certain to feel like dismemberment in the community that proudly heralded OKB’s national headquarters.
As the shakeout begins, Grand Rapids Business Journal advocates that restructuring spare the last vestige of OKB’s long and valued history in this community: that of its namesake on the West Michigan Whitecaps’ field of dreams.
Certainly there have been many other, smaller communities with personal ties to a business institution, and in Michigan’s second largest metropolitan area it is no different. Old Kent was a bank that stood by its customers through a Great Depression and World Wars, acts unforgotten in this "big, small town;" acts that surely helped maintain the institution’s 40 percent share of the market.
Old Kent Park is itself a monument to the number of community programs enriched by those who guided OKB and who deserve their due for controlling a very good deal for its many local stockholders. We have no grievance with Old Kent chairman and CEO David Wagner’s vigilance in this regard nor his desire to turn around what might have been a serious liability for OKB. The Securities and Exchange Commission release of a presentation to Salomon Smith Barney by Fifth Third Bancorp chief officers indicates Wagner acknowledged efficiency ratios were "off," a situation caused in part by installation of new technology.
What is likely to be remembered here is Fifth Third Chief Marketing Officer Wil Daly commenting that customers could be retained and attracted with offers of Pyrex, duffel bags and "soccer mom" chairs, even as he celebrated Fifth third’s profit on any single non-sufficient funds check charges.
Whitecaps fans may indeed have Fifth Third chairs for the favored fan field positions, but the Old Kent Park name should remain on the park gates. Indeed, it might be wise that Fifth Third marketing reps remember who brought ‘em to this dance, even in their giddy anticipation of this market takeover.