Moving to clear up questions about its succession plans, Huntington Bancshares said Thursday that it has named Peter E. Geier to the No. 2 job of president and chief operating officer.
Mr. Geier, 42, is a 15-year veteran of the banking company who has been viewed as a possible successor to chairman and chief executive officer Frank Wobst, 65, since last October. That's when the $29 billion-asset banking company put Mr. Geier in charge of a restructuring effort that so far has yielded a 10% reduction in its 10,000-person workforce, 39 branch closings, and a projected $128 million boost in 1999 earnings.
Asked whether Mr. Geier is indeed in line to succeed Mr. Wobst, a Huntington spokesman said only that the appointment "should speak for itself."
Mr. Geier, who was also elected to the Columbus, Ohio, banking company's board of directors, succeeds Zuheir Sofia, 54, who left more than 18 months ago to start his own firm. Since Mr. Sofia's departure, Mr. Wobst and other executives have shared the duties of the president and chief operating officer.
Mr. Wobst is under contract to remain CEO until November 2001, but he has been under pressure to name a successor or announce his retirement plans. The appointment of Mr. Geier "does clarify the succession issue that has been on a lot of investor's minds," said Joseph C. Duwan, an analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in New York.
So far, said Mr. Duwan, Mr. Geier has exceeded expectations and turned the bank's attention toward growth again.
Succession has been a nettlesome issue for Huntington since August 1996, when Mr. Wobst's heir apparent, W. Lee Hoskins, CEO of the flagship Huntington National Bank, announced he would resign. Mr. Hoskins was previously president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.
In related moves, Huntington said chief financial officer Judith Fisher was elected vice chairman and head of the private financial group, which focuses on high-net-worth banking clients, investments, insurance, and fiduciary services. She will also serve as chairman of the company's asset liability committee. Anne Creek, formerly an executive vice president, assumes Ms. Fisher's role as CFO.
The bank also named Mark DeLong, who has been the company's chief auditor, as executive vice president. Huntington shares closed up 12.5 cents, or 0.42%, on the New York Stock Exchange, at $29.6875.