Cardtronics Inc.'s return to profitability is making it harder for the automated teller machine operator to find a chief executive to its liking.

There are plenty of candidates for the opening that was created when Jack M. Antonini resigned in March after six years as CEO. But the Houston company's improving financial condition has prompted the board to set higher standards, said Fred R. Lummis, Cardtronics' chairman and acting CEO.

"Our existing management team keeps raising the bar through their own performance, and the board just won't settle for second best," Lummis said last month during a conference call to discuss third-quarter results. "So it's taking longer than we expected to complete our work. It is something of our own doing."

Cardtronics is the world's largest ATM independent sales organization. Through Sept. 30 it owned or managed 32,995 ATMs in the United States, United Kingdom, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Cardtronics reported a third-quarter profit of $6.52 million and a second-quarter profit of $2.6 million. Before that it hadn't turned a profit since the fourth quarter of 2006.

The company's share price has also been rising, after a steady decline. Cardtronics went public in December 2007, closing at $10 in its first full day of trading, but fell to a low of 92 cents in December 2008.

At midday Monday it was trading at $10.98, up 1.2% from Friday's close.

Financial losses and the stock's decline were factors in Antonini's departure. "Jack and the board have mutually decided that it would be in the best interests of the company to bring in a new CEO," Lummis said in March.

"As the company continues to perform well," Lummis said in October, "and our profile is more enhanced within the payments industry, there is a lot more interest from the marketplace in our CEO position."

Cardtronics' board wants a CEO with payments experience and a certain kind of management expertise, Lummis said.

"We're looking for somebody who is managing a business at least the size of Cardtronics, and we are looking for someone who is ready to take the mantel of a public-growth company," he said. "We are looking for someone to grab the bull by the horns."

Cardtronics is conducting rigorous due diligence in its CEO search, said Kate Monahan, an analyst with Aite Group LLC.

"They want someone who can continue to grow the company and to build Cardtronics' revenue," Monahan said.

When he was asked when Cardtronics would name a new CEO, Lummis said it was "very close, and I'd be very disappointed if we don't have somebody by the end of the year."

During a conference call in August to discuss second-quarter results, Lummis, who has been with Cardtronics since 2001, said he wanted to have the new CEO in place by the third quarter.

Monahan speculated that the board already has someone in mind for the job, and could announce the new CEO when the company reports its fourth-quarter and yearend results.

J. Christopher Brewster, Cardtronics' chief financial officer, recently raised its 2009 revenue guidance to a range of $485 million to $490 million; the previous guidance was $470 million to $490 million.