In an unexpected move, Bank One Corp. said Wednesday that vice chairman David J. Vitale would retire Nov. 1.
No successor has been named.
In an interview, the 53-year-old executive, who oversees the company's corporate and international businesses, said the decision to leave was personal and that his energy had been "sapped" by his involvement in two consecutive acquisitions.
Mr. Vitale, who started with the old First Chicago Corp. in 1968, helped guide that company's merger with Detroit-based NBD Bancorp in 1995.
Last year, he was the highest-ranking executive to survive Bank One's takeover of First Chicago NBD.
Analysts said that Mr. Vitale's planned exit was probably a result of the marginal role that commercial banking plays in the combined company.
The most flashy initiatives recently at the $256 billion-asset company have been on the retail side, including Bank One's stand-alone Internet bank WingspanBank.com, and First USA, the credit card bank it bought in 1997.
"The corporate business at the new Bank One is not as big a piece of the pie, and it's being deemphasized somewhat," said Michael Mayo, a banking analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston in New York.
"Certainly they're not enamored with the large corporate side of the business," said Nancy Bush of Ryan, Beck & Co. in Livingston, N.J. "I don't think anyone said it's time to leave, but clearly the handwriting is on the wall."
However, Bank One's commercial business is no small operation. It contributed 39% of the company's $3.8 billion of operating profits last year and 40% of its $1 billion in first-quarter net income. (Bank One reported its second-quarter results Tuesday, but information on specific business lines was not yet available.)
A Bank One spokesman said chief executive officer John B. McCoy told managers in a conference call Tuesday that the company's commitment to wholesale banking is "as strong as it's ever been."
Still, commercial banking has taken some hits since the merger closed last fall. In February, the company laid off 500 personal bankers for commercial customers and closed its proprietary trading operations in London and Hong Kong.
Mr. Vitale said Tuesday that he had not yet decided what he would do after leaving Bank One. He also reiterated the company's commitment to wholesale banking. "Playing in the large corporate business makes a lot of sense," he said.
One analyst speculated that the chief beneficiary of Mr. Vitale's departure would be Richard Vague, who heads the First USA credit card division, consumer lending, and WingspanBank.com.
Michael L. Granger of Fox-Pitt, Kelton in New York said Mr. Vague is the most likely executive to be named vice chairman.
"Clearly he's been elevated to a more important role," Mr. Granger said.
Mr. Vague may be an heir apparent to Mr. McCoy, 55, since most of Bank One's expanding lines of business-including Mr. McCoy's pet Internet projects-have been placed under his leadership, analysts said.
One possibility suggested by analysts is that Mr. Vague would be named vice chairman and retail boss while vice chairman Richard Lehmann, who now runs the consumer operation, would take over the corporate side.
In a statement, Mr. Vitale said he would work with Mr. McCoy and Bank One chairman Verne Istock to determine a successor.
Mr. Vitale was recruited by First Chicago 31 years ago after graduating from Harvard University. He is credited with helping turn around the corporate bank after the 1995 NBD deal.
In the latest merger, Mr. Vitale installed a system to review Bank One corporate clients based on their profitability. Those that do not produce enough income for the company are dropped.
"There has been more of a focus since the merger on relationship profitability," said Joseph C. Duwan, bank analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. in New York. "David deserves a lot of credit for that."
Mr. Vitale is unlikely to leave Bank One empty-handed. Though no details about his severance package were available, last year he was the eighth- highest-paid banking company executive in the country, earning $6.7 million.
Bank One shares closed Wednesday at $57.625 up/down $1.75.