There are tough times ahead for Banc One Corp., which is beginning a traumatic shift away from a decentralized structure toward a centralized one.

According to president Richard J. Lehmann, who last week received the additional title of chief operating officer, the Columbus, Ohio-based company probably will spend the rest of this year cutting jobs, controlling costs, and reaching for a greater share of each customer's wallet.

"One of the things at the branch level we've been working very hard on is building a sales culture," Mr. Lehmann said in an interview last week.

The 51-year-old former Citicorp executive said he hopes to do that through cross-selling - especially through lines of business such as consumer finance, mortgages, and credit cards - to existing middle-income customers.

Operating in Banc One's favor is the its recently unified and trained 12,000-member sales force which, analysts say, will have to start looking outward at the customers rather than inward at the reorganization.

But striking a balance between centralized and decentralized operations will be tricky, Mr. Lehmann said.

He noted that although employees will be selling many of the same Banc One products they have always sold, there previously wasn't much consistency.

"In the past, if a bank didn't want to do it a particular way in Kentucky, well, that was O.K.," Mr. Lehmann said. "Now it's all done the same.

"At the same time, we're not some bureaucratic, monolithic organization that is going to do everything the same way."

On the expense control side, Mr. Lehmann said the company's target is to cut expenses $400 million by yearend 1997.

Although reported expenses were down by $100 million in 1995, analysts have noted that number is unclear because of charges taken in the fourth quarter of 1994.

Nor is it yet clear where additional cost cuts will come from. Banc One had no specific target for eliminating jobs when it announced its decentralization plans a year ago. But it reduced its number of employees by a net of 2,000 in 1995 - adding jobs in growth areas such as credit cards. The company now has 50,000 employees.

Analysts commend the $90.5 billion-asset bank for the cost savings it has achieved so far, but say the bank's main target is now to increase revenues. They also wonder when Banc One will stop talking about focusing on the marketplace and actually do it.

Mr. Lehmann said analysts should stop being so prickly. "I think what they ought to do is look at the results," he said.

"I don't think we forgot about the customers in 1995, even though some people say that."

He also suggests Banc One may get back into acquisition mode, after a noticeable absence of buying last year.

"We continue to be interested in expanding the franchise, we continue to look," Mr. Lehmann said.

"Am I sad we didn't do anything in 1995? Not really," he added.

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