Wachovia chief picks a house in Charlotte

Less than a month into his tenure, new Wachovia Corp. chief executive Bob Steel has made another big decision: He's picked a house.

The former U.S. Treasury Department official is under contract to buy a home in Charlotte's exclusive Eastover neighborhood, sources told the Observer on Tuesday.

In last week's earnings conference call, Steel, 56, said he has been staying in the Hilton hotel next to the Charlotte bank's uptown headquarters during his first weeks on the job. He had counted his commute as just 31 steps.

Buying a home in Charlotte is the latest sign of Steel's commitment to the bank he's charged with reviving. After announcing an $8.9 billion second-quarter loss last week, he bought 1 million Wachovia shares.

Analysts have speculated that Wachovia could become a takeover target, a potentially grim scenario for Charlotte. Steel, however, has stressed his goal to restore the company. Local officials were pleased to hear he's putting down roots.

“He's given every signal that he and the board are committed to maintaining the independence of Wachovia and keeping the company in Charlotte,” Charlotte Chamber president Bob Morgan said, acknowledging that market forces will ultimately decide the company's fate. “He's putting his money where his mouth is, and that's good for Charlotte.”

A Wachovia spokeswoman declined to comment on the planned purchase.

Steel and his wife, Gillian, are moving to a neighborhood that has long been home to the city's business elite. Current residents include Duke Energy Corp. chief executive Jim Rogers and Steel's predecessor, Ken Thompson.

The home the Steels are buying has about 6,700 square feet and an assessed value of around $2.1 million, according to tax records. They also have homes in Washington and Connecticut as well as a condo in Colorado.

Steel, a Durham native, has said he's excited to be returning to his home state and Charlotte. “My wife, Gillian, and I look forward to becoming involved,” he told employees when he was introduced as CEO.