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Published: Tuesday, 4/11/2000

Venerable Toledo bank left a strong legacy

Yesterday, Sylvania's Capital Bank announced it had reached the magic $1 billion asset level - an amazing accomplishment for a bank that started less than 11 years ago with $13 million.

Last month, the Trust Co. of Toledo, based in Holland, O., which controls $1.6 billion in assets, was named one of the 10 most profitable specialty banks in the United States.

All over downtown Toledo, landmark buildings that once were empty, or nearly so, are bustling with new tenants.

What do these events have in common? They are all part of the heritage left by the former Toledo Trust Co. - a Toledo institution that lost its ownership, and name, in the banking takeovers in 1989-90 after 122 years in business.

The Toledo Trust organization, by then known as Trustcorp, Inc., ceased to exist in January, 1990, when it was taken over by Society Corp., of Cleveland, which later became part of KeyCorp.

Too much forward vision did in the venerable old Toledo bank. It had to write off $100 million in bad loans - mostly in downtown Toledo - in the tumultuous late 1980s. That was a desperate epoch in Toledo history, a time when Fortune 500 companies hunkered down to prevent takeovers. Despite their efforts, some lost the battle.

For a while it looked like downtown Toledo would be a ghost camp. But good times finally arrived in the 1990s - as did new headquarters for Owens Corning, Manor Care, and Libbey, Inc.

The hotels that were struggling a decade ago now seem to be thriving. Toledo's embarrassment, the closed Portside Festival Marketplace, has become COSI Toledo, a vibrant museum whose crowds exceeded initial expectations. Summit Center, which sat nearly empty for months, eventually housed several KeyBank operations and now the headquarters for Manor Care, a publicly traded nursing-home chain with $2.1 billion in revenue last year.

It took a while, but Toledo Trust's, and Trustcorp's, investments paid off in the long run, just not soon enough to save the local institution.

But Toledo Trust's legacy is not only brick and mortar. It's people.

The founders of the phenomenally successful Capital Bank are John Szuch and Robert Sullivan, both of whom had been senior vice presidents for Trustcorp, leaving just a year and a half before its merger into Society.

There's something of an irony in all this: It took Capital just over 10 years to achieve the $1 billion level (the bank actually touched $1 billion briefly before the end of 1999). In a vastly different and less inflated era, it took Toledo Trust 104 years to reach $500 million and 111 years to hit $1 billion. (By the time Trustcorp disappeared, its assets were $5.6 billion.)

Founders of Trust Co. of Toledo - Dave Snavely, Ted Hahn, and Julie Higgins - also were former top vice presidents of Toledo Trust and Trustcorp before they started their firm in 1990.

Veribanc, Inc., a bank-monitoring company, recently reported that Trust Co. of Toledo, chartered as a national bank, was the fourth most profitable specialty institution in the United State last year, with a profit of nearly 50 per cent of its $2.8 million invested capital. But in reality the local institution manages more than $1.6 billion in assets of company and union 401(k) plans and pensions, and manages investments for many Toledo-area families.

Many bank executives got their training at Toledo Trust, including Jim Hoffman, who is now president of KeyBank in northwest Ohio, and one of his top competitors, Don Kincade, now president of Fifth Third Bank of Northwestern Ohio.

The last vestiges of Toledo Trust, as an independent bank, have been gone for a full decade now. But the legacy is here to stay.

Homer Brickey is The Blade's senior business writer.



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