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Ex-financial officer has lackluster track record
By ROBERT TRIGAUX
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 22, 2000
ST. PETERSBURG -- After several ill-fated banking jobs in Florida, J. Webster Hull in late 1991 made a fresh start by trying to turn around a troubled Kansas City bank. Six months later, rumors started a depositor run and within a year the bank failed.
If some folks are unlucky at love, Hull seems unlucky at business.
Now Hull is neck-deep in a new financial headache. St. Petersburg's Eckerd College says its modest $34-million endowment fund was drained, without the knowledge of its board of trustees, of some $21-million to pay for various college expenses. For the past three years, Hull has overseen Eckerd's money management as vice president for finance. He resigned May 31.
Hull, 56, says he did nothing wrong. He says he was a victim of financial problems brewing at Eckerd long before he arrived. He says he "struggled mightily" with the college's old accounting systems that could not produce timely financial data.
And Hull suggests Eckerd President Peter Armacost's strong denial that he knew anything about the financial transactions is less than truthful.
"We have differences of opinion on any number of (topics), and this is one of them," Hull said Wednesday in a telephone interview.
Eckerd seems eager to blame Hull's predecessor, James Christison, for most -- but not all -- of the college's financial predicament. The school says that starting in 1998, after Hull had become head of the school's finances, the transfers of money out of its endowment fund actually began to accelerate.
The money was used for Eckerd purposes, including the college's ill-fated real estate projects. No laws were broken and none of the money is missing -- just spent on the wrong stuff, unbeknownst to Eckerd's trustees, the school says.
"Unfortunately, along with Dr. Armacost, (Hull) bears some responsibility as our chief financial officer for the endowment fund situation," Arthur Ranson III, chairman of Eckerd's board of trustees, said in a statement. Eckerd said Armacost will retire June 30.
Hull was ousted, but not without gifts. Eckerd will continue to pay his $117,500 salary, plus benefits, for another year.
Ever since landing in Florida as an Ivy League-educated, New York banker, Hull's track record in business is not one to envy.
Hull first showed up in the Tampa Bay area in 1986 as an executive of newly arrived Chase Manhattan Bank. Chase had entered the Florida market by buying the assets of Park Bank.
In 1987, Hull was recruited by Armacost to join Eckerd's board of trustees.
By 1988, Hull boasted that within five years he expected to be heading "one of the three leading banks in Florida." Instead, Chase's bank in Florida floundered.
Chase continued to lose money in Florida, and Hull left the bank in late 1990 to run Miami-based Southeast Bank's operations in the Tampa Bay area. Hull was laid off in June 1991.
By November 1991, Hull left Florida to serve as president of Metro State North, a troubled bank based in Kansas City, Mo. Six months later, the bank faced a rare run by depositors. The bank survived, only to fail from loan problems in the fall of 1992. Hull again was out of a job.
Hull did various bank consulting jobs until landing his finance job at Eckerd in August 1997.
In his defense, Hull points out that he was one of the "initiators" of the independent review of Eckerd's handling of its endowment fund and the college's troubled ties to real estate projects known as College Landings and College Harbor.
"I am still helping the college at its own request," Hull said.
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