In his reluctant search for a successor, 82-year-old Dr. Armand Hammer, chairman of Occidental Petroleum Corp., turned yesterday to A. Robert Abboud, a pugnacious Chicago banker with little direct experience in energy production, but a lot in high-stakes corporate survival.
Abbound yesterday was named president of Occidental Petroleum, the world's 12th-largest oil company, replacing Zoltan Merszei, who held the job a little more than a year.
Abboud, 51, was fired in June as board chairman of First National Bank of Chicago after an open dispute with the bank's second in command that embarrased corporate directors.
His rise of the top of First National also was marked by pyrotechnics. He was one of three bright young men recruited from Harvard Business School in the late 1950s by Gaylord Freeman, the long-time head of First National. On his way up, he made a mark as a brillant entrepreneur and a hard-nosed executive.
He became president of First National in 1975, outlasting a handful of other contenders and was charged with purging the bank of a large portfolio of bad or questionable loans.
Abboud instituted a very tight loan policy -- one bank official said that every credit request above $1 million had to be approved personally by Abboud. eThe bank did strengthen itself -- its assets grew from $19 billion to $30 billion under his guidance -- but at a price. Loan applications took too long to process, some big customers felt, and they took their business elsewhere.
There was also an exodus of more than 100 upper- and middle-level management executives from First National, who either objected to his abbrasive style or were casualties of his house cleaning.
Abboud is a Democrat. He claims that Richard J. Daley, former mayor of Chicago "was like a father to me." And he was one of the few business leader invited by President Carter to a Camp David "summit conference" a year ago, when the president was seeking advice on redirecting his administration.
But some observers believed Abboud may have the flair and pace to hold on as Hammer's heir apparent at Occidental. Like Hammer, Abboud has an eye for precedent-breaking business deals abroad. It was First Chicago that opened the first banking office in China, although at costs that some bankers considered excessive.