In a surprise move, Bank of New York Co. on Wednesday named Gerald L. Hassell, a 25-year veteran of its corporate banking unit, as president.
Mr. Hassell, 46, takes the title from Thomas A. Renyi, the chief executive officer who became chairman of Bank of New York in February. Though Mr. Renyi had long been expected to give up the presidency, Mr. Hassell, a low-profile executive, was not seen as an obvious candidate for the job.
"I'm a little mystified," said Sally Pope Davis, an analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. "He has not been in the mainstream."
One of six Bank of New York senior executive vice presidents, Mr. Hassell lacks experience in one of the $63 billion asset banking company's key business lines-securities processing.
Further, he is little known outside of Bank of New York.
His profile is in stark contrast to that of vice chairman Alan R. Griffith, another veteran corporate lender whom many observers have long considered the top contender for the president's office. Mr. Griffith, 56, who was chief operating officer from 1990 to 1994, spends much of his time today traveling to meet and cultivate clients, analysts said.
He also speaks frequently with Wall Street, as do Mr. Renyi and Deno D. Papageorge, a senior executive vice president in charge of finance.
Business managers like Mr. Hassell, however, are rarely made available to investors and other outsiders. Indeed, Mr. Hassell was not available for comment Wednesday.
But some analysts said Mr. Hassell's insider status makes him a good choice for the president's job. Former presidents of the Bank of New York, including Mr. Renyi, typically remained in the background and ran daily operations, while the chairman functioned as the company's face and voice.
"Griffith is probably more useful using his expertise and skills as the ambassador of the bank," said Gerard Cassidy, an analyst at Tucker Anthony.
Though the appointment of a president usually signals the line of succession to chief executive, analysts said it would be premature to assume that in Bank of New York's case. Mr. Renyi is just 51, and he shows no sign of wanting to leave the spot for which he was groomed for more than a decade.
Still, analysts said, Bank of New York has historically aligned its senior management in a way that an heir apparent is entrenched long before taking office. And Bank of New York promotes from within. "They have a great farm system," Mr. Cassidy said.
Like Mr. Renyi, Mr. Hassell joined the bank as a management trainee. He worked through the ranks of commercial lending, becoming a member of the bank's senior policy committee in 1994.
Mr. Hassell's commercial lending experience would balance Mr. Renyi's background in negotiating mergers and acquisitions and in processing-one of Bank of New York's high-profile businesses.
The banking company is one of the three largest asset custodians in the United States, with $3.8 trillion of assets under administration. Traditional lending, meanwhile, is seen as a secondary business. Last year Bank of New York ranked No. 12 among bank commercial lenders.
'It's unusual that they didn't pick someone from a major business," said Stephen Biggar, an analyst at S&P Equity Research. "Maybe they felt they needed a representative from one of the secondary businesses" to round out the senior management.
"What's important to any bank is credit culture," added Mr. Cassidy. "There can be more damage from a slip-up in commercial lending than there can be from a slip-up in processing."
Surprise aside, Mr. Hassell is typical of the executive that Bank of New York likes to promote, analysts said.
"The senior management all demonstrate a working knowledge of the company," said Bradley Ball, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. "They are not just visionaries. They understand the nuts and bolts of how the company runs."
Mr. Hassell's appointment is effective immediately. He is also assuming a spot on the banking company's board.