Chase Manhattan Corp. on Wednesday named William B. Harrison Jr. its next president and chief executive officer, succeeding Walter V. Shipley.
Mr. Harrison, 55, will take the helm on June 1. At that time, Thomas G. Labrecque, 60, president and chief operating officer, will retire.
The announcement puts to rest rampant questions on Wall Street about the leadership plans at Chase. By not anointing a clear successor to Mr. Shipley and Mr. Labrecque-who were long expected to depart at about the same time-Chase helped to fuel speculation that it was looking for another merger partner.
Wednesday's announcement also marks the end of an era for $366 billion- asset Chase, which grew in the 1990s through mergers with Manufacturers Hanover Corp. and Chemical Banking Corp.
Mr. Shipley, 63, will remain Chase's chairman, but will leave the executive committee and relinquish day-to-day control to Mr. Harrison, who is currently vice chairman of the board and head of worldwide wholesale banking activities.
The banking company will not have a chief operating officer. The remaining six members of the executive committee will report directly to Mr. Harrison.
"It's a continuation of the same strategy," he said in an interview. "I feel very comfortable with the management team we have in place," he added. "We have great momentum."
Both Mr. Shipley and Mr. Labrecque set the stage for succession in late 1997, with the formation of a nine-member executive committee from which the next leader was to be selected.
The two executives said they started narrowing their list of candidates last fall. In a series of meetings with the bank's board since then, especially in the last two months, Mr. Shipley and Mr. Labrecque chose Chase's next CEO.
Questions about the future management of the bank had fanned rumors that it was searching for a partner in either the banking or brokerage industries. Indeed, some market watchers speculated that Chase was refraining from anointing a new CEO to sweeten a potential merger with an investment bank.
But with Chase's announcement Wednesday, analysts said a deal is now unlikely in the near term.
"It seems they are certainly not ready to sign on the bottom line," said Carla D'Arista, an analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co.
Mr. Harrison was thought to be among the most likely candidates to succeed Mr. Shipley, along with Marc J. Shapiro, 51, vice chairman of finance and risk management, though many analysts had recently given Mr. Shapiro the edge. He will remain in his current position.
A member of the bank's board since 1990, Mr. Harrison "bridges the gap between the old guard and the new guard," Ms. D'Arista said. "He comes from the wholesale tradition, but he's clearly identified with the next generation."
In separate interviews, Mr. Shipley and Mr. Labrecque said the bank's emergence from its merger transition period and its performance in recent months prompted them to pass the mantle on to the "next generation."
"The bank is doing well, and the waters are calm," Mr. Shipley said. "The team has come together so well. It's time for a change."
"I've spent my life building what I think is the best company of its type," Mr. Labrecque said. "It's time to step back."
Commenting on his departure from the bank after 18 years with Chase as either president or chairman, Mr. Labrecque said the succession made clear that the bank was moving on, rather than entering a transitional mode with him as CEO until his retirement.
"Having two successions two years apart is not good. We made it decisive," he said.
Mr. Harrison is a 30-year veteran of the bank-having joined Chemical Banking Corp. in 1967-and a longtime associate of Mr. Shipley's. He is seen by many inside and outside Chase as having the same demeanor and management style as his mentor, Mr. Shipley.
"He can be extremely good with clients, he can be very thoughtful as a listener," said James McCormick, president of First Manhattan Consulting Group who has worked closely with Chase's senior management team. "He can orchestrate."
Mr. Harrison described himself in similar terms, saying he preferred to "attract and retain talented people and get them to work together toward a common goal."
Erskine Bowles, a general partner at Forstmann Little Co., and a former prep school and college roommate of Mr. Harrison's, used a basketball analogy. "He lets the game come to him. He's always been a consensus builder."
Mr. Harrison graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1966 and was a player on its basketball team. He holds a graduate degree from Harvard University.
Mr. Shipley said he would remain on as chairman, acting as the bank's senior statesman, for a brief while as Mr. Harrison makes the transition.