The Bank Administration Institute on Thursday named longtime retail banking executive Thomas P. Johnson Jr. president and chief executive officer.

The appointment marked the end of an era at the Chicago-based institute, which was headed by Ronald G. Burke for the last 21 years.

Mr. Burke, who presided over BAI's rise into an elite and unique position among banking associations, announced his intention to retire several months ago, pending the naming of a successor. Mr. Johnson was one of 20 candidates that an executive search firm brought up for consideration.

Mr. Johnson, 56, was Boatmen's Bancshares' executive vice president of retail banking from December 1995 until January 1997, when NationsBank Corp. acquired the St. Louis company.

He said his immediate plans are to stay the course set by Mr. Burke, 65, who among other accomplishments turned BAI into more of an education and information provider than a typical trade group. It also became a premier conference sponsor: its annual Retail Delivery conferences, covering leading-edge issues in service distribution and technology, are the biggest in banking.

"The industry is changing so rapidly, you have to work very hard just to keep up with it," Mr. Johnson said.

Founded in 1924 as the National Association for Bank Auditors and Controllers, BAI has 6,500 member banks, thrifts, and credit unions.

Mr. Johnson, with 25 years of banking experience, acknowledged he faces a challenge in keeping BAI out in front of key issues. "Most bankers don't like to be on the leading edge," he said. "They like to stay a little behind and watch. BAI has to be on the leading edge."

"His approach is a bit more conventional, a bit more old school," said Anthony Davis, an analyst with Dillon Read & Co.

He won praise at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Barnett for building a 600- branch network and establishing the company as an aggressive seller of mutual funds, insurance, and annuities in the early 1990s.

When Barnett, where he worked for a decade, reshuffled management in November 1994, most of his responsibilities as chief executive of retail banking were parceled out to other executives. He remained at Barnett for about a year as a consultant.

Before Barnett, Mr. Johnson, worked for NCNB Corp., now known as NationsBank.

"I'm very proud of the things I've done at NCNB and Barnett and I was just getting grounded at Boatmen's," Mr. Johnson said. "It's been a great ride for me."

Though his most recent jobs were retail, Mr. Johnson also ran trust banking at Barnett and was senior vice president of trust at NCNB. It was Mr. Johnson's range of experiences, including branch banking, consumer finance, credit cards, mortgages, and insurance, that brought him to the fore among candidates for BAI, institute officials said.

He "brings a wealth of industry knowledge and experience from some of the country's most influential banks," said Thomas G. Ash, chairman of the 18-member BAI board and chief executive officer of SunTrust Service Corp.

A South Carolina native and an Air Force fighter pilot in the Vietnam War, Mr. Johnson received a masters degree in business administration from the University of Southern Florida in 1972 and went to work for First National Bank of Tampa.

Mr. Johnson said he promised his wife years ago they would not keep moving. Now he says Chicago will be his last professional stop.

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