David K. Hunt, the chief executive who brought stability to AT&T Universal Card Services after its tumultuous beginnings, resigned Wednesday.
The Jacksonville, Fla., card operation said Mr. Hunt would "pursue other interests." He was not available for comment.
A spokeswoman said Mr. Hunt, 50, had agreed with his AT&T Corp. superiors that it was time for a leadership change. Another official said Mr. Hunt is likely to move into a venture where he could have more personal impact.
A veteran of the early credit card days at the Virginia banking company now known as Signet, Mr. Hunt ran AT&T Universal since May 1993. He succeeded Paul G. Kahn, a flamboyant marketeer who was credited with making the Universal Card - combining general-purpose and telephone card services - an overnight success in 1990.
Mr. Kahn left after reportedly failing to convince AT&T to diversify into other banking and financial services.
With a contrasting, lower-key style, Mr. Hunt succeeded at boosting per-card credit balances. But they were still below the industry average.
Industry observers said Mr. Hunt was not able to take the program to its next level. Card outstandings stood at $13.2 billion on June 30, down from $14 billion at yearend 1995 but up from $6.6 billion at the end of 1992.
Between Dec. 31 and June 30, the company fell in bank card industry rank from sixth to seventh, according to The Nilson Report.
AT&T has begun a search for a new president. In the interim, Gerald A. Hines, 49, the card unit's executive vice president and chief operating officer, is responsible for day-to-day operations. Mr. Hines reports to Richard W. Miller, AT&T senior executive vice president and chief financial officer.
Mr. Hunt had reported to Alex J. Mandl, the president of AT&T, who himself resigned from the Basking Ridge, N.J.-based parent company Aug. 19.
Under Mr. Hunt, AT&T tried to encourage higher revolving balances - the most lucrative source of credit card income - by introducing the Something Extra rewards program in May 1994. Two years later came a revised version, AT&T Universal Card Rewards, amid a slew of other incentive programs from competitors.
"It's like any child prodigy," K. Shelly Porges, a San Francisco-based card industry consultant, said of AT&T Universal. "Once you've been a great success in your youth, how do you repeat that as you mature?"
Anita Boomstein, a partner with the law firm Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, who worked with the AT&T unit, said Mr. Hunt had the challenge of maintaining business rather than creating it.
"If the company isn't committed to expanding to other financial services ventures, which they're apparently not, then how does this man prove he's doing a good job?," Ms. Boomstein said. He was able to point to increasing balances, revenue, and profitability, she said.
"This development says more about AT&T than about Hunt," said James Shanahan, partner at Business Dynamics, a Nyack, N.Y., consulting firm.
He said that if AT&T asked Mr. Hunt to leave, "they would be demonstrating their lack of understanding of this business," he added. "Few people understand the credit card business as well as he does."
Despite recurrent speculation that AT&T might spin off the card business, the parent is pleased with its contribution and "we see it playing an important role going forward," said AT&T spokeswoman Adele Ambrose. The card business is seen as complementary to communications services, creating opportunities for broader customer relationships.
For Mr. Hunt's successor, AT&T will likely look for an operations oriented, rather than entrepreneurial, executive, to bring performance up "in line with the peer group," said William Deatherage, an analyst who follows AT&T for Bear Stearns & Co.