officer Lewis W. Coleman announced his resignation Tuesday, effective Dec. 1. Mr. Coleman, 53, was at BankAmerica since 1986 and a member of chairman and chief executive officer Richard Rosenberg's inner circle. He lost out to David A. Coulter in the competition to succeed Mr. Rosenberg, who is retiring next year.
The bank said group executive vice president Michael E. O'Neill, 49, will be the new chief financial officer. Mr. O'Neill, an alumnus of Continental Bank Corp. in Chicago, which BankAmerica acquired in 1994, is also expected to be elected a vice chairman. The change is the highest-level shake-up since the surprise announcement on Aug. 8 that Mr. Coulter, who has a wholesale banking background, would rise to the top job. Some BankAmerica watchers foresee other departures, possibly including vice chairman Luke Helms, who in recent weeks was passed over by one of his peers, Thomas Peterson, for the company's top retail banking post. The change in CFO is not seen as heralding any major strategic shift, though Mr. Coleman was seen as one of the company's most able executives and, until the Coulter promotion, as the front-runner for CEO. Mr. O'Neill said in an interview that he shares Mr. Coleman's belief that bank acquisitions at current prices are "hard to reconcile with achieving shareholder value." He also agrees that BankAmerica could make a go of nationwide banking through alternative delivery systems rather than extensive brick-and-mortar branch networks. Otherwise, Mr. O'Neill said he had little specific to say about his future plans. "The first thing I want to do is educate myself on this company," he said. Mr. Coleman's resignation had been expected. But the fact that he left before getting another job was taken by one source as a sign of chilly relations in the new leadership ranks. A source close to Mr. Coleman said he understood that Mr. Rosenberg had never told Mr. Coleman why he was passed over for CEO. According to the source, Mr. Coleman thus found it uncomfortable to stay on the job. Mr. Coleman was not available for comment Tuesday. In a prepared statement, he said his long-term career objectives "are best pursued outside of the company and with the transition to new management, now is the appropriate time for me to make a change." Mr. Coleman also said he "expects to make a decision on his next career move in the near future." Mr. Coleman solidified his reputation as one of the industry's top bankers when he moved to BankAmerica from Wells Fargo in 1986 to become chief credit officer in the world banking division. In this post and in others, he was credited with playing a crucial role in helping BankAmerica recover from its near-fatal commercial and international lending problems of the 1980s. He later played a key role in BankAmerica's acquisition of Security Pacific Corp., completed in 1992. He was named vice chairman and chief financial officer in February 1993, succeeding Frank Newman, who became a top Treasury Department appointee in Washington and more recently chairman-designate of Bankers Trust New York Corp. "Lew Coleman has made a very substantial contribution to BankAmerica over the past nine years," Mr. Rosenberg said. "His efforts were integral to the company's recovery in the 1980s, as well as to its return to the forefront of the U.S. banking industry in the 1990s. We will miss him, and we wish him every success." Mr. Coleman enters the job hunt at a time when competition for bank CEOs is especially tight in view of the mergers that are reducing the number of available slots and putting more CEO-caliber people on the street. "He might be an excellent fit for a financial services company outside the banking industry," said David M. deWilde, managing partner of the executive search firm Chartwell Partners in San Francisco. After 10 years at Continental, Mr. O'Neill left in 1984 to handle loan workouts in London, then came back in 1989. He was chief of staff for former Continental chairman Thomas C. Theobald, now with William Blair Capital Partners, who Tuesday called Mr. O'Neill "an extraordinarily smart choice (who has) wonderfully wide experience."