Peter S.P. Dimsey's announcement last week that he would step down as MasterCard's U.S. region president to join MBNA Corp. focused attention on both organizations' rapidly evolving strategies.
The move came as a surprise, but hardly a shock, to people who follow the industry's people and personalities. Many saw it as a natural step both for Mr. Dimsey, who will be taking on more of a line business challenge, and for MasterCard, which is bringing new blood into top management.
MBNA, best known for its affinity card partnerships, has its eye on the international market. Mr. Dimsey is expected to play a large role in expanding MBNA's global reach.
Mr. Dimsey will become a senior executive vice president of MBNA America Bank in Newark, Del., on Feb. 20. He will be in charge of strategic planning for the bank and its subsidiary in the United Kingdom, and will report to MBNA chairman Charles M. Cawley, who also happens to be a MasterCard director.
MBNA is regarded as one of the best companies in the business, both in profitability and management quality. Second only to Citicorp in bank card outstandings, at $19 billion, the company has recruited talent from both bank card associations in the past, but never at Mr. Dimsey's level.
"People can really understand the appeal of joining that organization," said Cynthia Graham, president and chairman of Barnett Card Services Corp., a unit of Barnett Banks Inc.
At MasterCard, a new chief executive, H. Eugene Lockhart, took charge last March. He has made several key personnel moves that are recasting the corporate culture. (See article below.)
One banker close to MasterCard, who asked to remain anonymous, said Mr. Dimsey's departure would not be the last significant shift at the New York- based association.
More people, it seems, were confounded by the announcement nearly a year ago by Alex W. Hart, then MasterCard's chairman and chief executive, that he would leave to become executive vice chairman of Advanta Corp. in Horsham, Pa.
"I can't say I was surprised (about Mr. Dimsey) considering all of the changes at MasterCard," said Michael Auriemma, president of Auriemma Consulting Group, Westbury, N.Y.
Another industry observer, Robert B. McKinley, compared Mr. Dimsey's post at MasterCard to that of a politician.
"Such jobs have a short life span, anyway," said Mr. McKinley, head of RAM Research Corp. in Frederick, Md.
The consensus appears to be that Mr. Dimsey, at age 57, made a bold career move.
MBNA's international ambitions undoubtedly appeal to Mr. Dimsey, who was born in England and brings multinational business experience - he has also worked for Seagram's, Avis, General Foods, and on the Chrysler account for the Kenyon & Eckhardt advertising agency.
MBNA opened its U.K. subsidiary in November 1993, and it has grown to $400 million in receivables. A company spokesman said it is the first of numerous ventures that MBNA plans to open in Europe and elsewhere.
Citicorp and MBNA are the only U.S. credit card issuers with global strategies, and MBNA is still an international upstart compared with its money-center rival.
Mr. Dimsey said he will be working closely with Fred Enlow, MBNA's vice chairman of international businesses, who is also based in Delaware.
Some bankers wonder whether Mr. Hart and Mr. Dimsey's departures from MasterCard, both for card issuing companies, were coincidental, or whether they may be parallel manifestations of a sea change at the association.
Mr. Dimsey would say only that they were coincidental.
"We have both gone to very strong members," said Mr. Dimsey, who joined MasterCard in 1988, the year before Mr. Hart did. The two had a close relationship, and Mr. Dimsey flourished in MasterCard's top U.S. job as Mr. Hart turned more of his attention to international concerns.
"Is it serendipitous that they left just a year apart from one another? I don't know," said Ms. Graham at Barnett.
Others speculated that the rapport between Mr. Dimsey and Mr. Lockhart might not have been as effective as what was viewed as a complementary personality mix between the analytical and restrained Mr. Dimsey and the charismatic Mr. Hart.
No one suggests that Mr. Dimsey was asked to leave MasterCard. In a prepared statement, Mr. Lockhart said, "I am sorry to see him go, but I can't think of a better organization for him to join than MBNA."
John A. Ward 3d, who heads Chase Manhattan Bank's card operation, said he was "totally shocked" at the news. "It is a great loss."
Mr. Dimsey, a banking industry outsider, earned respect throughout the card community. Carl Pascarella, president of Visa U.S.A., said he met with Mr. Dimsey a few times, had a high regard for him, and said all bankers "spoke highly of him."
Mr. Pascarella said he was less sure of the move's impact on MasterCard management, given Mr. Lockhart's already strong hand.
Mr. Lockhart said Mr. Dimsey's decision was "perfectly understandable." The chief executive added that from the membership perspective there will be no fundamental changes at MasterCard.