Boatmen's Bancshares has named John Morton 3d executive vice president.
The move has prompted some analysts to speculate that Mr. Morton, chairman of Boatmen's lead bank, is a likely candidate to succeed chairman and chief executive Andrew Craig.
The St. Louis-based bank said Mr. Morton will continue as chairman, chief executive, and president of Boatmen's National Bank of St. Louis, but he will also assume additional management responsibilities.
In his new position, Mr. Morton will continue to report to Boatmen president Samuel B. Hayes 3d.
Mr. Morton, 52, was named chief executive of the St. Louis bank two years ago and was elected chairman last August. He joined Boatmen's after leading the turnaround and sale, to Roosevelt Financial Group, of Farm and Home Financial Corp. of Kansas City, Mo., a $3.8 billion-asset thrift.
Although a relative newcomer to Boatmen's, Mr. Morton has quickly ascended to the top management ranks. He is now one of six executive vice presidents of the $41 billion-asset company.
Boatmen's has long been rumored to be a takeover target. The company has reported flat earnings for several years, but has an extensive retail franchise in nine midwestern and southwestern states.
Analysts said the promotion of Mr. Morton ensures his place as one of three potential successors to the 64-year-old Mr. Craig. The other candidates are Mr. Hayes, 59, and vice chairman Gregory L. Curl, 47.
Mr. Hayes followed the same path as Mr. Morton, heading the St. Louis lead bank before he was promoted two years ago to president of the holding company.
Denis Laplante, a Fox-Pitt Kelton analyst, said he expects Boatmen's will soon make its succession plan known, perhaps by the end of the year. However, Mr. Craig has not signaled that he is ready to retire.
Michael Durante, an analyst for McDonald & Co. Securities in Cleveland, said he believes Mr. Morton is the lead candidate to succeed Mr. Craig. "He's risen over a short period of time," Mr. Durante said.
Boatmen's spokesman Larry Bayliss said the company is not ready to make its succession plan public. He called the comments about Mr. Morton's possible future as chief executive "pure speculation."