TYCOON WEILL; DEAL REALIZES LIFE'S DREAM OF UBIQUITY.
Sanford Weill can hardly contain himself.
At a time when most of his one-time peers on Wall Street have burned out - or been booted out - Weill, who is 64, has just scored a coup for Travelers Group, the company he built from other people's castoffs. He has bought Salomon Brothers, a firm known as the biggest, baddest bond trader on the Street, and maybe on the planet.
And Weill, who a decade ago was written off as a has-been, is clearly filled with glee. ``He's having the time of his life,'' said James Dimon, his second-in-command for 15 years and the chief executive of Smith Barney, the Travelers brokerage firm.
Weill is grinning even as he takes on a challenge that has brought other Wall Street powerhouses to grief - building a financial services firm that can do everything, everywhere, from advising China on billion-dollar deals to selling mutual funds to amateur investors in Cincinnati.
And he is doing it by trying to swallow a firm with a troubled past and a high-testosterone culture that has resisted even Warren Buffett's efforts to tame it.
The Salomon deal is the culmination of a lifelong dream, he said, to build what he calls ``a great financial services company without parallel.''
And if that means coping with the outsized egos - and salaries - that characterize Salomon, well, ``I have experience with diverse cultures, and getting people to work together,'' he said.
In the course of an hour's conversation, Weill boasts of his years of experience and of how he has ``been out of just Wall Street'' since 1981.
At the age of 27, after just five years as a stockbroker, Weill opened his own firm with some friends, who used every penny they had to buy a seat on the stock exchange, said Roger Berlind, now a Broadway producer. ``We started out working around the clock,'' Berlind said, ``and Sandy's still doing that, from everything I hear.''
Weill began buying other brokerage firms, assembling the huge network of stockbrokers that became Shearson Loeb Rhodes. He was famous for negotiating hard bargains and for inspiring the troops while slashing costs.
But in 1981, he made a deal that would lead to disaster for him. He sold Shearson to American Express Co., the credit card giant. But he and James D. Robinson III, the chairman of American Express, could not work out their differences; in 1985, Weill became unemployed.
Despite a reputation for ruthlessness, Weill is well known for his loyalty and surrounds himself with old associates.
Admirers point out that he remains married to the woman he married right out of college, Joan Mosher Weill, and that his son Marc works for Travelers. Deryck Maughan, the chairman of Salomon Brothers, is a friend of almost 10 years.
Indeed, in the midst of all the long phone calls and secret meetings in hotel rooms that characterize a big merger, Weill found time to place a condolence notice in the newspaper on Wednesday for William Overman, a money manager, ``one of our first and most loyal investors.''
Photo, 2 Charts
Photo: (Color) Travelers Group is buying Salomon Inc., housed at Seven World Trade Center in New York.
Chart: (1-2--Color) TRAVELERS BUYS SALOMON
Travelers Group's purchase of Salomon Inc., is the latest in a wave of buyouts rearranging the financial services landscape.