Comerica Inc. has stolen acquisition czar Ralph W. Babb Jr. away from Mercantile Bancorp and installed him as chief financial officer at the Detroit-based bank.

Mr. Babb, who could not be reached for comment on his move, had worked for 17 years at St. Louis-based Mercantile, starting as controller and rising through the ranks to treasurer, chief financial officer, and ultimately, vice chairman. It is not clear whether he will be replaced.

Mr. Babb, 46, is expected to help Comerica expand, particularly in his home state of Texas.

Joseph Duwan, a banking analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., said that Mr. Babb "was ready for a new challenge. He'd been at Mercantile for a number of years. Comerica's obviously a larger bank than Mercantile. I think he was interested in a change." (Comerica has $34 billion of assets, compared with Mercantile's $13 billion.)

One assignment Mr. Babb is sure to draw is the expansion of Comerica's Illinois operation. With $1.3 billion of assets, that state's franchise needs bulking up, though prices for acquisition targets in Illinois have been "pretty hefty," Mr. Duwan said.

It is unclear whether Mr. Babb will be in line to succeed Comerica's 57- year-old chairman and chief executive, Eugene A. Miller. "There are others in the running to succeed Miller, and Gene is relatively young," Mr. Duwan pointed out.

Aside from his expertise in acquisitions, Mr. Babb won kudos for helping to ratchet down Mercantile's efficiency ratio over the last few years. He also is credited with ensuring that earnings at the St. Louis bank showed slow and steady improvement.

At Comerica, Mr. Babb replaces Paul H. Martzowka, 56, who will retire on June 30 after 31 years in the banking industry.

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