Chase Manhattan Corp., the biggest U.S. banking company and owner of the third-largest bank card portfolio, has decided to replace one of the card industry's longest-serving veterans with a novice in the field.
But the novice, Michael Urkowitz, has a solid reputation for technology management, as well as expertise in securities and other wholesale operations. At 53, he is only four years younger than the man he replaces, Charles R. Walsh, whose credit card career dates back 22 years.
The handoff between the executive vice presidents, effective next February when Mr. Walsh officially retires, will give Chase the luxury of a seasoned manager with a fresh outlook on his assignment.
Given Mr. Urkowitz's technology background, people who know him were not surprised he got the job. "His move seems natural because he has a lot of experience in high-volume businesses," said Diane B. Glossman, an analyst at Salomon Brothers Inc.
More surprising to some people was Mr. Walsh's timing. "It wasn't contemplated that he would retire," said a former Chase executive.
Despite Mr. Walsh's tenure dating from the old Manufacturers Hanover Corp., and his spearheading of Chemical Banking Corp.'s popular co-branded MasterCard with Shell Oil Co., observers said he may have lost stature because the card portfolio's performance had not matched that of competitors'.
But Mr. Walsh said he had been planning for a number of years to step down at 58 - which he will have reached by February.
Mr. Urkowitz, a 22-year Chase Manhattan veteran, "skyrocketed" through the organization, said George C. White, a former Chase executive and payment systems expert.
On the corporate side of the bank, Mr. Urkowitz had a close relationship with Thomas G. Labrecque, currently president and chief operating officer, Mr. White said. "Labrecque helped to push him through the bank and (assigned) him to some key efforts," said Mr. White, who heads White Papers Inc., a consultancy in Montclair, N.J.
Before joining Chase in 1974, Mr. Urkowitz had been an engineer at Grumman Aerospace Corp. He also held two posts in the office of the New York City mayor. He is a member of the Federal Reserve's Large-Dollar Payments Systems Advisory Group, and he has been on various New York Clearing House committees.
Most recently, Mr. Urkowitz was responsible for merging Chase's and Chemical's consumer credit systems. Before the merger, Mr. Urkowitz had integrated Chase's retail products, linking their technology and service delivery.
"By the time the merger occurred, I was reasonably familiar with credit cards," said Mr. Urkowitz. "I feel very much up to speed."
He will work with Chemical alumnus Harry DiSimone, who was promoted to chief operating officer and customer delivery management executive. Mr. DiSimone had been seen as a candidate to succeed Mr. Walsh.
"Giving Harry that promotion probably seals his staying with Chase," said Donald M. Berman, president of Cardholder Management Services, Plainview, N.Y.
"Whatever successes Chemical had recently are very attributable to Harry," said Donald M. Berman, president of Cardholder Management Services in Plainview, N.Y.
Mr. Urkowitz, Mr. DiSimone, and Mr. Walsh will work together in developing an international card strategy. Mr. Walsh will focus on identifying overseas markets for the card business, which has operations in Hong Kong, Panama, and the Virgin Islands. He expects to glean ideas from serving on MasterCard International's board of directors, a post he will retain until February.
Analysts said that Chase is not interested in branching overseas, as Citicorp has done. "They are looking for partnering opportunities in various countries, perhaps with one or two products," said Ms. Glossman.