The man who doubled the size of Wichita, Kan.-based Fourth Financial Corp. and then sold it to Boatmen's Bancshares, will step down as chairman early next year.

Darrell G. Knudson, 58, is resigning as chief executive and president of Fourth Financial - Boatmen's Kansas subsidiary - effective July 31 and will retire as chairman of the unit early next year. Robert W. Wightman, president of community banking at Fourth Financial, will succeed him in all three posts.

Mr. Knudson said he had agreed as part of the merger deal to stay on as chairman until one year after completion of the sale, which closed in January. He said he will not take another job.

In an interview this week, he said he is to receive a retirement package of about $2 million in cash and stock.

Mr. Knudson said his 40 years in banking "has been a great career, and it's a great industry. The future for the industry is encouraging for those willing to change with it."

Mr. Knudson took the helm of Fourth Financial in 1990, and built it into a $7.4 billion-asset company. He had previously been with First Bank System Inc.

Having worked his way up from teller to vice chairman at First Bank over 33 years with the Minneapolis-based company, Mr. Knudson left after being passed up for the top spot. That job went to John Grundhofer, who eventually replaced the bank's management team.

After spending several years at Fourth Financial, competing with Boatmen's in the Kansas City market, Mr. Knudson engineered the company's sale to its St. Louis rival last August.

Mr. Knudson was largely responsible for Fourth Financial's growth over the past five years, looking to Missouri and Oklahoma for possible targets. He'll likely be best remembered for his company's foray into Oklahoma, which accounted for more than one-third of Fourth Financial's assets when Boatmen's bought it.

Joseph Stieven, an analyst with Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. in St. Louis, said the company's rapid growth contributed to its takeover.

"The company, under his guidance, increased tremendously through acquisitions in the state of Oklahoma," Mr. Stieven said. "Unfortunately, it hit a few potholes along the way."

Fourth Financial had already been a fast-growing company through in- market acquisitions in Kansas, doubling in size between 1985 and 1990. Mr. Knudson continued that charge, completing nearly 30 deals from 1990 to 1995.

Mr. Knudson, a native of South Dakota, said he has no misgivings about selling his company to Boatmen's.

"I always felt it was a mistake to proclaim you're going to stay independent or that you're going to put yourself on the market," he said.

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