BankUnited Financial Corp., a fast-growing thrift based in Coral Gables, Fla., has hired an executive from the state's biggest bank to run its operations.

Medhi Ghomeshi, 41, is South Florida president of NationsBank, a unit of BankAmerica Corp. that still operates under that name. He will take over as BankUnited's president and chief operating officer Dec. 1.

Alfred R. Camner, founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of $3.7 billion-asset BankUnited, is to relinquish the president's title.

The thrift company's chief operating officer, James A. Dougherty, has been named executive vice president in charge of commercial banking.

BankUnited's hiring of Mr. Ghomeshi is considered a coup in the highly competitive South Florida market. Mr. Ghomeshi had spent 17 years with Barnett Banks Inc., becoming its South Florida president in 1996. NationsBank kept him in that high-profile role when it bought Jacksonville, Fla.-based Barnett in January.

Mr. Ghomeshi's resignation takes effect Nov. 30. Robert Hilson, a senior vice president in commercial banking at NationsBank, has been named to succeed him.

Mr. Ghomeshi said the opportunity to direct the growth of a Florida- based company was too good to pass up.

"BankUnited offered a unique opportunity to be able to work in a bank in Florida, and I would have the autonomy and ability to make a difference," he said.

Kenneth Thomas, a Florida banking expert, said Mr. Ghomeshi's move to BankUnited would be a plus for the company.

"He is a very well known, very respected banker," Mr. Thomas said. "I think he felt his role was limited at NationsBank. Here he has something to potentially build."

Mr. Ghomeshi is joining BankUnited at a time when the 14-year-old company is trying to leverage an increased market presence into greater profits.

Since the takeover of Barnett, BankUnited has become one of the two largest banking companies headquartered in Florida. The other is Fort Lauderdale-based BankAtlantic Corp.

But BankUnited still has the balance sheet of a traditional thrift. Residential mortgages compose 90% of its loan portfolio.

In the last several months BankUnited's earnings have suffered from buying adjustable-rate mortgages in the secondary market. With more than $2 billion of ARMs on its books, prepayments prompted by falling interest rates have squeezed profits significantly.

"A lot of our original focus was on building the deposit branch system," Mr. Camner said. "Our goal now is to build a significant money-making franchise that has more retail banking aspects to it. I really feel Medhi is the person who can handle this. He has all the facets of the important sides of the business."

BankUnited wants to build market share among small-business customers, boost its fee income, and increase its mortgage origination business, Mr. Camner said.

During his tenure at Barnett, Mr. Ghomeshi held various posts, including manager of corporate business and manager of commercial real estate.

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