Seeking to settle questions about its management succession, Barclays PLC of London said that longtime Canadian banker Matthew Barrett would take over as chief executive officer in October.
Mr. Barrett, 54, would fill a vacancy created last November when Martin Taylor resigned. That occurred after Barclays said 1998 profits would be lower than expected.
Barclays announced in February that former BankAmerica Corp. executive Michael O'Neill would become CEO, but health problems prevented him from taking the post.
The naming of Mr. Barrett on Tuesday morning in London caught market watchers by surprise.
The Irish-born Mr. Barrett has not been on the British banking scene since his days as a young trainee in Bank of Montreal's London operations.
After 37 years with $145 billion-asset Bank of Montreal, the fourth- largest bank in Canada, he resigned as CEO in February, saying he wanted to take time away from the industry.
During a press conference Tuesday, Mr. Barrett said the offer from Barclays was "unexpected and irresistible."
"Barclays is a very large and highly respected icon in an environment that is transforming rapidly," he said. He said he plans to defend Barclays' domestic market position-it is second only to Natwest Group in United Kingdom bank assets-and develop its presence in Europe.
Timothy Sykes, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston, said he had not met Mr. Barrett. But echoing the opinion of other analysts in London who follow Barclays, he said, "The auguries are good."
The $349 billion-asset Barclays suffered losses last year from investments in Russian bonds and in the Greenwich, Conn., hedge fund Long- Term Capital Management. In May the U.K. bank said it would slash 6,000 jobs in a bid to cut annual expenses by $324 million.
The turmoil was compounded when Mr. O'Neill, 52, was unable to move into the CEO role as scheduled in April. He was chief financial officer of Continental Bank Corp. in Chicago before BankAmerica took it over. At BankAmerica he was president of the principal investing and wealth management group until the San Francisco company merged with NationsBank Corp. to create the new Bank of America Corp. Mr. O'Neill headed the merger-transition committee.
Sir Peter Middleton, chairman of Barclays since April, has been serving as interim CEO. He will relinquish that role to Mr. Barrett and continue as chairman of Barclays Group.
At the press conference, Sir Peter said Mr. Barrett had been on the bank's original list of candidates to succeed Mr. Taylor. At the time, however, Mr. Barrett was preoccupied with a $12 billion merger pact with Royal Bank of Canada.
In December the Canadian government quashed that deal and another between Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Toronto-Dominion Bank, concluding that they would be anticompetitive.
Mr. Barrett said Tuesday that if the decision went the other way, he would still be in Canada, running the combined institution.
He called it "quite remarkable that the bank we had hoped to create would have ended up being almost a carbon copy of what Barclays already is."
He is known in North American banking circles for his keen wit and considerable grounding in electronic commerce, retail banking, and international banking.
A consumer banking background was especially important to Barclays, the chairman said.
Mr. Barrett said acquisitions could be in his plans for Barclays. "We will do whatever it takes," he said. "The business is in a good state but it needs to move forward."
Private banking and other "wealth management" services are to be a "high priority," Mr. Barrett said.
He said he also wants to expand mortgage operations and would try to capitalize on the brand strength of the Barclaycard credit cards to grow in continental Europe.