Barnett Banks Inc. has pushed out its longtime retail chief as part of a reorganization aimed at reigniting its consumer banking drive.

Thomas P. Johnson Jr., who oversaw branch operations, marketing, and investment products at the $39 billion-asset company, was dismissed late last month, a Barnett spokesman said.

"We need a change in management strategy to operate more effectively," the spokesman said, adding that Mr. Johnson will work for Barnett as a consultant. Mr. Johnson could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Johnson's responsibilities are being split among three executives, with the bulk of the job going to Jon Palmer, chief of technology for the Jacksonville, Fla., company.

As head of retail banking, Mr. Johnson oversaw more than 600 Barnett branches in Florida and Georgia. He has been credited with helping the company establish itself as a powerhouse in fee-generating consumer offerings, such as mutual funds, insurance, and annuities.

But as the Southeast's economy has bounded back from recession, Barnett has fallen behind such rivals as SunTrust Banks, First Union Corp., and NationsBank Corp., said Christopher Martel, an analyst with Dean Witter, Discover & Co., New York.

Barnett's growth in the past year "hasn't been that strong compared to what the state has done economically and demographically," Mr. Martel said.

"He was under pressure to perform, to do some new things," added an executive who has close dealings with Barnett. "I guess it was too little, too late,"

What's more, a major chunk of Mr. Johnson's responsibilities - Barnett's investment-products business - has been thrust into controversy.

Barnett has been waging a legal battle with Florida's insurance commissioner over the legality of its in-branch annuities sales program, and over its 1993 purchase, engineered by Mr. Johnson, of a Belleview, Fla., insurance agency.

The company's retail brokerage unit has also been racked by defections. Early this year, Barnett sued three brokers who defected to Smith Barney Shearson, alleging that they improperly took proprietary information on clients. And in April, brokerage chief James Daniel stepped down.

Mr. Johnson's sudden departure caught observers by surprise. "I thought he was pretty strong in his position," said Mr. Daniel, the former Barnett brokerage chief, now a regional manager with Wall Street Investor Services, New York.

The Barnett spokesman said Mr. Palmer, the technology chief, has assumed Mr. Johnson's responsibilities for branch operations and retail strategies.

"We feel technology and retail banking are intertwined," the spokesman said. "It made sense to place them under the same person."

Marketing will fall under the purview of Susan Blaser, who was recently recruited from First Bank System, Minneapolis. Mr. Johnson had been handling these duties for six months, since James Covington left the company.

Barnett has also created a new position, asset management chief, to handle trust, mutual fund, and brokerage operations. That spot is yet to be filled.

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