Forty-five years ago, LDS Church President David O. McKay, Tribune publisher John Fitzpatrick and Chamber of Commerce boss Gus Backman would meet for lunch regularly in a booth at Lamb's Cafe on Main Street.

Not much went on in Salt Lake City and its environs that didn't pass muster with these three men.

Later, slightly larger groups held sway: executives at KSL, Deseret News, Tribune, Utah Power & Light, Kennecott, Mountain Fuel Supply, Zions and First Security banks — all would be sought out by those wanting to kill an idea in the Legislature, redevelop large areas of the city or conduct a public campaign to pass a tax increase.

But no more.

A study by the Deseret News of power in Salt Lake City and Utah shows that traditional power bases have eroded in the state.

Power, like nature, hates a vacuum. And when decisions are to be made, there will be men and women to make them.

But it is more likely today that those calling the shots are leaders in city, county and state government as opposed to local bank presidents, who are moved in and out of town as they climb their nationwide corporate ladders.

Various leaders said power in the state is much more diffuse than before.

Mitt Romney knows.

When he hit town in early 1999 to take over the scandal-plagued Salt Lake Organizing Committee, Romney, former head of a Boston-based venture capital firm, looked around in Utah for "The Vault."

"This is not a community where you go to a couple of people and they nod, and suddenly everything you needed comes your way. That may (still) be the case in places with very strong business circles.

"In Boston we have something called The Vault — where very senior business leaders come together and decide what certain priorities are and are able to pull the strings necessary to make things happen," Romney said.

"I found this (Salt Lake) to be a far more diverse power structure in the business community."

Longtime public relations executive Dale Zabriskie remembers when you could bring together the publishers of the two daily newspapers, the head of KSL and KUTV, a few bank and utility presidents, the LDS Church (on certain issues) and things would fall into place.

In just the past 10 years that has changed.

The Salt Lake Tribune has been sold three times, KUTV and other local media outlets are owned out of state, banks have merged or been sold and basic industries like Kennecott no longer dominate the commercial landscape.

In fact, only one man who could be considered old-line powerful — First Security Bank's former chairman Spencer Eccles — even made the newspaper's Top 20 list of influential and powerful people.

Other businessmen are there (Larry Miller, for example, was listed as No. 5), but they are a new breed of entrepreneurs, not corporate survivors.

Gov. Mike Leavitt — a self-made millionaire in his family's insurance business — has considerable experience dealing with the state's power structure.

He's seen it change dramatically in two ways: "One is clear: changes in ownership" of the major blocs — media, mining, retail chains, banks, utilities. "Those are macro-economic trends."

The other change is more subtle.

Leavitt recalls when you could get together the leading members of the University Club (now closed) or the Alta Club, "and they formed a critical mass. They controlled a lot of resources, and it was a kind of traditional atmosphere you'd expect. That doesn't exist anywhere near that extent today," Leavitt said.

"And a lot of it is because wealth has been dispersed through technology to people who have serious wealth and control a lot of the resources, but they are in companies that are far less profiled. I bump into (Utah) companies today that have $100 million, $200 million net worth that are listed on the NASDAQ exchange, that people in this state have never heard of before.

"These are people who are not involved in the same way in the community that those 'captains of industry' used to be," Leavitt said.

The LDS Church also doesn't have the impact on the local community it used to have. While the church clearly has influence, it is now more behind the scenes, several people said.

Several years ago church President Gordon B. Hinckley (listed as the most influential man in the state by the newspaper's panel of experts) decided that church general authorities would no longer sit on private business boards.

Across the state, leading corporate citizens who used to reserve one or two board seats for church general authorities filled the vacancies with other citizens. With the church's removal of those men from boards — from the Deseret News to Zions Bank to the utilities to major retail chains — a direct link of communication between church leaders and the community ended.

Fred Ball, longtime Chamber of Commerce president and now senior vice president for corporate affairs at Zions Bancorp, said the change has led him to observe that the church isn't as active in the business community as it used to be.

"I used to say when I first became chamber president (in 1971) that if I had five men around a table agreeing, I could do anything," recalls Ball. "They were N. Eldon Tanner (a former member of the LDS Church's First Presidency); Jack Gallivan (former Tribune publisher); Wendell Ashton (former Deseret News publisher and Utah Symphony president); B.Z. Kasler (former president of Mountain Fuel Supply); and Arch Madsen (former president of KSL)," Ball said.

"Now the chamber isn't out front on much, and I couldn't even tell you who the head guy of Kennecott is in Utah. Things have really changed."