When Walter Shipley ascended to the chairmanship of Chemical Banking Corp. in 1983, few people were privy to whatever ideas he had about where he wanted to take the company.

Invariably described as a quiet man who leads more by orchestration than by proclamation, Mr. Shipley initially said little to raise outsiders' expectations for what was then the sixth-largest U.S. bank, one of the old money-center breed that was searching for the keys to a revival.

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