Maher insisted that he bore no personal animosity toward Rinehart, and said he hadn't spoken to Rinehart simply because there was no need to he was fully aware of the details of the offer.

His dealings with leaders of rival thrifts were considerably more friendly.

On Feb. 25, Maher and his wife invited Washington Mutual Chief Executive Kerry Killinger to their Bel Air home for dinner. The Mahers had a similar dinner at their home with the chief executive of another thrift, which he would not identify.

Early on, Ahmanson also committed what now appears to have been a major tactical blunder when Rinehart issued an internal memo guaranteeing that no Ahmanson employees would be laid off as a result of the merger implying all job cuts would be from Great Western's ranks.

That made Ahmanson's bid appear all the more hostile and provided Great Western with ample ammunition for swaying the opinions of its employees and the public against Ahmanson.

In contrast, Maher said he was impressed with Washington Mutual's track record and Killinger's dynamic management style. Killinger came to Washington Mutual in 1982 and transformed the company from a conservative regional savings bank with 39 branches into what will be the nation's largest thrift, with $87.5 billion in assets. Part of that came from acquiring American Savings Bank last year.

There were other suitors, most notably Minneapolis-based Norwest Corp., headed by Richard Kovacevich.

In the days after Ahmanson's announced bid, Killinger and Kovacevich each headed up a team of attorneys, investment bankers and accountants who were in town to evaluate the feasibility of buying Great Western.

Those two teams of 75 people each occupied separate camps in the Great Western building, adjacent to the company's headquarters building, with each team doing due diligence over a three-day period in late February.

After days of number-crunching, the Washington Mutual team determined that the thrift could afford to pay nine-tenths of a share of Washington Mutual stock for each share of Great Western, a deal that initially penciled out at $6.6 billion.

Great Western and the two teams were "trying to be discreet," explained Phil Erlanger, head of investment banking in the L.A. office of Lehman Brothers and one of Washington Mutual's key players in the drama.

"They had people driving in and out (individually) in their own cars in an attempt to keep it very normal and uninteresting."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.