Edward D. Miller, widely regarded as most likely to succeed Walter V. Shipley as chairman of Chase Manhattan Corp., announced Tuesday that he will retire April 1.
Mr. Miller, senior vice chairman of the biggest U.S. banking company, said he intends to "pursue a second career" after 35 years at Chase and its predecessor institutions.
"I've long had a desire to run something," said Mr. Miller, 56. He "didn't feel comfortable exploring those possibilities while still at the bank" and wants to devote all his energies to the search.
He did not rule out the possibility that he could end up in the top spot at another bank. He said he will also explore opportunities in the public and nonprofit sectors.
"I haven't really focused on anything just yet," he said in an interview. "I was very committed" to managing the merger and integration of his and Mr. Shipley's alma mater, Chemical Banking Corp., with Chase.
He said he told Mr. Shipley that "once we were on the other side of the mountain, I would end up assessing where I was."
Thomas G. Labrecque, 58, the old Chase's chairman and the new Chase's president and chief operating officer, will take on management of regional banking, nationwide consumer services, information technology, operations, and administration after Mr. Miller's departure.
"I obviously want him to stay," Mr. Shipley, 61, said in a prepared statement. "But I have to respect his wish, expressed to me over time, to choose a second career while he was still in his mid-50s."
The announcement surprised outsiders.
"I am sorry to see him bow out," said Frank Wobst, chairman of Huntington Bancshares in Columbus, Ohio, who worked closely with Mr. Miller to organize the Banking Industry Technology Secretariat, or Bits.
As vice chairman of Bits, an offshoot of the Bankers Roundtable, Mr. Miller contributed significantly to preserving banks' role on the Internet and in evolving payment systems, said Mr. Wobst. "I will miss him as a partner."
Mr. Miller had a reputation as a successful retail banking and technology strategist who relied heavily on team-building and consensus management to accomplish objectives.
"There are some at Chase who have grown up with him," said Jill M. Considine, president of the New York Clearing House Association and a former state banking superintendent. "Chase will certainly lose that corporate history."
Mr. Miller's legacy includes two merger-integration projects - Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. with Chemical Bank in 1991, and the 1996 Chase-Chemical megadeal.
He is credited with working long hours to guide the $320 billion-asset Chase into the forefront of new banking technologies and build the bank's regional and consumer banking operations.
"I wanted to see what it would be like not to work those hours," Mr. Miller said. "It'll probably only be temporary."
Peers predicted he will end up atop another banking or financial company. "You would expect that," said Ms. Considine. "He has been so visible in banking."
Mr. Miller started as a trainee at Manufacturers Hanover, and except for a brief stint in the Marine Corps, rose through various managerial roles to become vice chairman in 1988. Following the Manufacturers-Chemical merger, Mr. Miller became vice chairman and later president. He became senior vice chairman after the merger with Chemical.