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‘On exceptionally sound footing'

Catch phrases such as “protect, preserve and generate capital” emerged during new Wachovia CEO Bob Steel's lengthy phone sessions Tuesday as he unveiled a barrage of bad news.

Steel, a longtime former Goldman Sachs banker hired two weeks ago, stayed cool and on point during his debut earnings calls with analysts and reporters. He talked of “decisive steps,” strong “core franchises” and taking responsibility for a “disappointing performance.”

He committed to being “open and transparent” while working through issues that led to a staggering $8.9 billion loss and more than 10,000 job cuts. But still new to the job, he politely begged off some questions.

“I'd push pause and buy a bit of time here,” he responded to one analyst.

Another analyst pressed for details on what specifically the company might consider selling as “non-core assets.”

“We'll have more to report in the months ahead,” Steel said, in part.

Soon after, he said of his response “I admit to being a bit evasive….Thank you for your patience.”

On Tuesday, Steel addressed “clients, shareholders and friends” in a letter on the bank's Web site, which also featured an earnest, two-minute video message from the new boss.

“I want you to know that our company is on exceptionally sound footing,” he said on the video.

The plan presented Tuesday morning was well underway when Steel's appointment was announced July 9. For example, David Carroll, head of the capital management group, said Tuesday he had been reviewing projects to reduce capital expenditures for about five weeks.

Of his involvement, Steel said, “Hopefully I served as a catalyst to encourage focus or intensity of focus.”

He said he's received a warm Charlotte welcome, and that he has a great commute: He's counted 31 steps from the Hilton where he's staying to Wachovia's headquarters.

Stella M. Hopkins
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