The chairman of a small, Hispanic-owned New Mexico bank has handed over day-to-day management to his 22-year-old daughter.

Martin Romero, 47, named his oldest child, Rebeca, president and chief executive officer of Centinel Bank of Taos at the bank's 30th annual shareholders meeting Feb. 2. Ms. Romero, who graduated from college less than two years ago, is believed to be the youngest bank CEO in the country.

"She has maturity beyond her years," said Mr. Romero. "She is not your typical 22-year-old."

Centinel Bank, with $95 million of assets, has been in the Romero family since its founding in 1969 by Mr. Romero's father, Eliu. The elder Mr. Romero established the bank after he was turned down for a $500 equipment loan to help start his law practice.

The younger Mr. Romero became president and CEO in 1984.

"I though I was hot stuff," joked Mr. Romero, who was just 32 when he took the helm.

Talk of Ms. Romero succeeding her father began while she was at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

She has worked in every department of the bank, beginning when she was 10, and over the years has attended national banking conferences with her father.

Since joining Centinel full-time after graduating in 1997, Ms. Romero has been executive vice president and head of the year-2000 compliance team.

Working from the ground floor up, Ms. Romero said, has prepared her to run the bank and earned her the respect of her co-workers. She is in charge of 60 employees and five branches.

"It's been a hands-on experience," Ms. Romero said. "I know the intricacies of the bank and its customer base."

Ms. Romero said she first plans to upgrade technology systems for tellers and loan officers. She also intends to branch into communities outside Greater Taos, beginning with an office in Las Vegas, N.M., which is to open this year.

She is also committed to building team spirit by giving employees more power to make decisions, she said.

If Ms. Romero is overwhelmed by her new job, she's not showing it. She said her biggest challenge so far has been dealing with people outside the bank who are shocked at her age.

"It's an incredible responsibility to my family and the community, but I have great people working with me," she said. Besides, she added, "if I ever run into any major problems, my Dad is only a phone call away."

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