When you broach the question, "Who's running National City bank in Cincinnati these days?," T. Michael Price and Michael P. McCuen look at each other and just grin.

Known in the company hallways as the "two Mikes," the team of Price "”chief executive officer of the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky region"”and McCuen, the president, act so much in unison that it can be tough to tell wh'™s actually the boss.

The unique arrangement is by no means an accident; it's an experiment in what is traditionally a very top-down corporation.

"For National City, it is unusual," agrees  Price. "It helps that we have a similar view of the business. It starts with your employees and your customers."

And what customers. The growth of National City, a Cleveland monolith, in  Greater Cincinnati has been explosive. The bank"”which recently entered the market by buying Provident Bank for a couple billion dollars in stock"”has opened 16 branches in just the past 12 months.

What accounts for the success? "We both believe we're in the relationship business," observes McCuen. "Not just the customers, but the community. Understanding that we're here, we're invested. Our employees follow along with that." This philosophy translates into employees being offered the time to volunteer.

"This community is incredibly philanthropic," says Price. "I've never seen anything like it."

Both describe the power-sharing arrangement as a natural progression. "I was down here first," says Price. "Then Mike came. We informally divided into retail [Price] and corporate [McCuen]."

And while there's a tendency to believe that local leaders get their chains pulled by corporate HQ, the pair describe it as quite the opposite. "Yes, we are owned by a Cleveland company," says McCuen, "but most decisions are made on this floor."

"This floor" being located on the seventh story of National City's highrise at One E. Fourth Street, located directly across the street from a downtown Starbucks, certainly a critical factor for any busy banker.

"It's a very competitive landscape," McCuen is saying as the interview begins. "Some of the best banks in the country are here." That said, the banker maintains that his business runs on a simple formula. "It's just not always easy to execute."

Price agrees. "When it comes to leadership, I think good leaders set expectations that are both inspirational and aspirational, leading the future, leading by example. ...I think if you just come, set a tone, lead by example, go shoulder to shoulder with your employees..."

His comment trails off when he's hit by another thought: Taking advantage of what National City gained when acquiring the Lindner family's Provident. "A great legacy in the Lindners. Loyalty." This is as much about loyalty from the employees as the customers.

The duo by no means suggests that they can rest on the Lindner laurels, the decades of good will created by the family's generous support in the city. "We have made an unprecedented investment in this community," maintains Price. In addition to the 16 new branches built in the past year, worth $75 million in capital expenditures, and numerous charitable sponsorships, there's talk of a $40-million data center in Queensgate.

"We are the local bank with large bank resources," says McCuen. "We want to provide all the banking services. Our investment banking group, international group and our asset management division have grown... [It's about] figuring out a way to be the best. Providing leadership to get there. We do have a performance culture. If Mike and I don't perform, the rest of it doesn't matter."

For his part, Price suggests strategy definitely has a place, but that "relationships are almost as important as strategies. Talent and execution. If I don't have great people, it doesn't matter."

The two executives smile at each other again, almost as if they've recognized they used the same phrase ("it doesn't matter") within a heartbeat of each other.

Both men have similarities beyond the boardroom. Both Mikes have five children each. "There's definitely no 'me' time," observes Price. "If we're not in the building, we're with our children." Echoes McCuen: "We're both coaches." For a total of 10 children? Say no more.

And what's next for National City in the Tristate? "More of the same you've been seeing," says McCuen. "More branches, certainly. We didn't think Cincinnati was over-served, and still don't."