CHICAGO -- Furthering a senior management transition that got under way this spring, Continental Bank Corp. has elevated three veterans of the company to executive vice president.

The executives are Wilma J. Smelcer, 44, head of private. banking; Marcus W. Acheson 4th, 49, head of metropolitan Chicago operations; and David W. Halstead, 42, head of capital advisory services.

The promotions further a management succession program that Continental chairman and chief executive Thomas Theobald has put into motion now that he is essentially through with a major restructuring of the company.

Rewarding the Troops

Over roughly five years, in which the $22 billion-asset company charged off at least $1.7 billion, he has helped take the bank's ownership out of the hands of the government and steered it away from retail banking toward the corporate and small-business markets.

With divestitures and cost-cutting moves largely completed, Mr. Theobald is not boosting the authority of officers who played key roles in the overhaul.

Last month, Michael E. O'Neill, 49, succeeded Hollis Rademacher as chief financial officer. G. Robert Muehlhauser, the 46-year-old head of regional corporate banking, was named an executive vice president in May.

And in March, William M. Goodyear, 44, and Michael J. Murray, 48, were named vice chairmen of the corporation.

|Sends a Message'

The migration of so much young timber into senior management "sends a message that Continental is completing the transition from crisis management to long-term planning," said Felice Gelman, a banking analyst with Dillon Read & Co., New York.

Continenal -- significantly aided by tax breaks and trading gains -- has rebounded from a third-quarter 1991 loss of $185 million to deliver seven consecutive profitable quarters.

Second-quarter profits of $61 million this year translated into a 0.97% return on assets.

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