Norwest Corp. said Monday it had promoted Leslie S. Biller, a marketing-savvy retail banker and strategic planner, to president and chief operating officer.
A 10-year veteran of the Minneapolis-based banking company, Mr. Biller, 48, will fill a conspicuous void as No. 2 to chairman and chief executive officer Richard M. Kovacevich, who is five years his senior.
There had been no clear second-in- command since Mr. Kovacevich became CEO in 1993. Though Mr. Kovacevich's retirement is not seen as imminent, Mr. Biller said the company and its directors will have a chance to see him "in action and determine whether I'm the right guy" for the top job.
But the possibility of succeeding Mr. Kovacevich is "the last thing on my mind," Mr. Biller said in an interview Monday.
Mr. Biller, who is also joining the Norwest board, was most recently the executive vice president responsible for community banking in Iowa and Nevada; Norwest Mortgage, the Norwest Direct telephone mortgage program; Norwest Card Services; strategic development; and community bank marketing.
He will have six executive vice presidents - the heads of all the banking groups-and the president of Norwest Mortgage reporting to him. Norwest Financial and Norwest Venture Capital will continue to report to Mr. Kovacevich.
Leslie S. Biller, a 10-year Norwest veteran who was executive vice president in charge of south central community banking and who oversees the mortgage banking subsidiary, was named president and chief operating officer of the $80.2 billion-asset company. He was also elected a director of Norwest.
Mr. Biller, 48, reports directly to Richard M. Kovacevich, 53, chairman and chief executive. Six executive vice presidents will report to Mr. Biller, while the chief executives of Norwest Financial Inc. and Norwest Venture Capital will report to Mr. Kovacevich.
The architect of one of the industry's most aggressive diversifications through nonbank affiliates, Mr. Kovacevich was president and chief operating officer when he gained the CEO title in January 1993. He became chairman as well when Lloyd P. Johnson retired in May 1995.
Mr. Biller, a New York native, joined $80 billion-asset Norwest in 1987 as executive vice president and head of strategic planning and acquisitions.
Before that he spent two years with BankAmerica Corp., his last post as executive vice president for consumer markets, including bank card, mortgage, direct and indirect consumer lending, and asset and liability marketing.
Mr. Biller also spent 12 years at Citicorp-Mr. Kovacevich's alma mater- where he was business manager for Italy and the United Kingdom, among other postings.
"He's one of the marketing gurus within the top management at Norwest," said analyst Ben Crabtree of Dain Bosworth Inc. Mr. Biller's "grasp of marketing makes him well equipped for what the banking industry is going to be like over the next 10 years."
"Marketing and strategic vision are two things that run hand in hand," Mr. Biller said Monday. "We're fundamentally a sales organization."
Mr. Biller was recently mentioned as a possible candidate for the top retail banking job at BankAmerica. His promotion should quiet that speculation.
Mr. Biller, who has a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from City College of New York and a master's in business administration from Xavier University of Ohio, is one of the few top Norwest executives younger than the CEO, noted Anthony Davis, an analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds. Mr. Biller "is a logical guy to look to," the analyst said.
"He's already made significant contributions to the success and growth of Norwest," Mr. Kovacevich said in a prepared statement.
Most analysts saw the announcement as overdue. "From my perspective there was not a clear-cut heir apparent," said Joseph Duwan, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. But he added, "I expect Dick (Kovacevich) to be around for quite a while."