Comerica has new CEO for the first time in 17 years

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Comerica in Dallas has finally named the successor to its longtime CEO Ralph Babb.

Curtis Farmer, president of Comerica Bank and its holding company, was named chief executive of both entities on Tuesday. Babb, 70, was named executive chairman of both the bank and the holding company.

"Curt's focus on relationship banking and his experience in the financial services industry, as well as at Comerica, make him ideally suited for the role of CEO," Babb said in a press release Tuesday. "I believe that Curt's strong leadership, integrity and commitment to our customers, colleagues and the communities we serve will further Comerica's success in the years to come."

It has long been speculated that the $71 billion-asset Comerica might be inclined to sell. Its commercial lending specialty and its presence in desirable markets like Texas and California make it an attractive target, and Babb would collect a $58 million change-in-control payment if the bank is sold,analysts at Evercore ISI wrote in a research note Tuesday.

Investors may view the handoff to Farmer, 56, as a sign that the bank is planning to remain independent for the foreseeable future, the note said. However, Babb's change-in-control agreement remains in effect, and Comerica's stock (trading at nine times 2019 earnings per share) might not reflect the "substantial amount of takeout speculation."

Babb first joined Comerica in 1995 as executive vice president and chief financial officer. He was named president and CEO in 2002.

As CEO, Farmer will be responsible for all business lines, credit and the bank’s support and operations teams. He will continue to report to Babb, who will chair the boards of directors for both the bank and its holding company.

Farmer joined Comerica in 2008 as executive vice president of wealth management. He was named vice chairman of the retail bank and wealth management divisions in 2011. Farmer succeeded Babb as president in 2015, setting off speculation that he was a likely successor to the CEO.

In 2018, he was named to the holding company’s board of directors and took on responsibility for technology and operations. This year, he started overseeing credit.

Before he joined Comerica, Farmer worked at Wachovia Bank for 23 years.

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