By JASON BOOTH Staff Reporter H.F. Ahmanson & Co.’s unsuccessful bid to acquire cross-town rival Great Western Financial Corp. of Chatsworth earlier this year was characterized as a particularly humbling defeat for Charles Rinehart, Ahmanson’s chief executive. But today, nearly six months later, Rinehart insists he has no regrets. In fact he believes the battle for Great Western highlighted the strength and maturity of Ahmanson, parent of Home Savings of America. Not only was his management team big enough to attempt the deal, he says, they had the foresight to walk away when the price was no longer acceptable. In October, Ahmanson announced the acquisition of Coast Savings Financial Inc., bringing total deposits for the combined institutions to $39 billion. But while Ahmanson is always looking for beneficial acquisitions, the real growth will come internally, Rinehart said. The goal is to complete the transition from a traditional savings and loan to a consumer bank within the next two years. As for the threat of a larger outside rival swallowing up Ahmanson, Rinehart believes the appreciation of the company’s stock price will keep investors happy and hostile suitors at bay. Question: What did you learn from the failed bid for Great Western? Answer: We learned a few things along the way, but nothing so enlightening that it would have changed the outcome at the end of the day. We did learn that being true to your principles works. We were not doing the acquisition for any other reason than we felt it was a good opportunity to accelerate what we were doing strategically, and because it made sense for us and our shareholders. And at the stage that it stopped making sense for us and our shareholders, we walked away from it. What that reinforced is that we were being true to the shareholder-value concept and not getting caught up in the competition of an acquisition, which is very easy to do. Q: Are there any hard feelings between you and the people at Great Western or its acquirer Washington Mutual? A: No. I still see the folks from Great Western at industry gatherings. I’m on the board of the Federal Home Loan Bank with some of them. It’s unfortunate that it was portrayed as a hostile takeover bid, but that was not reality. It was done for business, and then you get on with it. As for Kerry Killinger, I only met him a couple of times and he seemed like a very decent sort. Q: Was the purchase of Coast Savings an afterthought to the failed Great Western bid? A: We would be as happy not doing any deals if there were not any deals out there worth doing. In the Coast situation, they came to us and were willing to be reasonable in their pricing. Their feeling was that if they were acquired they would enjoy the benefit on the upside by riding our stock price up. I think they were smart to do it that way. We wouldn’t have done it any other way. It made sense. Q: Do you miss the excitement and media attention surrounding the Great Western battle? A: Not at all. I enjoy my privacy. It was draining. I can’t imagine how people who are always in the public eye can enjoy it. There was only one benefit in that respect. Ahmanson got a lot of media attention so people could really see how we are changing from an S & L; into a bank. Q: Where do you go from here? A: The same place we were going the day before we went for Great Western. Operating on our own, building a very strong consumer bank franchise. Continuing to build our franchise internally, to develop our own people so they become more competent in providing the full range of products a consumer bank would. Q: Do you see high stock prices slowing down the wave of mergers in the banking industry? A: If you listen to the market rhetoric, it doesn’t look like it is going to slow down. But I don’t think it has been proven yet that big is better. There obviously are advantages in economy of scale. But if a few of the mega-mergers go sideways, you may start to get a lot of questions from investors whether these deals are that good for the buyers. In that case you may start to see it slow down. Q: Is there a future for the traditional S & L;? A: We don’t think so, at least the way we were historically doing it. If I was going to pick an S & L; with the greatest chance of doing it, I would pick someone like World Savings. It just so happens today that is the best of all approaches for an S & L; to operate. Real low-cost branches, limited service, but the highest rates on certificates of deposit. In today’s low interest-rate market, the higher CD rate is far more important to the customer than the service.