Coming off the success of the Olympics in Atlanta, William Porter "Billy" Payne will be carrying the torch for NationsBank Corp. - and analysts say it's a world-class move.

Mr. Payne, 49, who ran the committee that managed the centennial summer games, signed up as a vice chairman at the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank last week.

In an interview Friday, Mr. Payne said he would not have a direct operating responsibility for the retail side of the bank. But, he added, "representing the bank in a multitude of ways is going to be one of my principal responsibilities - and of course making friends and associates that I've had the privilege to meet aware of the significant services and products the bank has to offer."

NationsBank said Mr. Payne will be based in Atlanta, report directly to chairman and chief executive Hugh L. McColl Jr., and "work closely with the principal officers in all NationsBank customer groups as he develops business opportunities with corporate and individual clients of the bank."

"It appears he's going to be an international marketing executive," said Darren Short, an analyst with Robinson-Humphrey Co. in Atlanta. "Billy Payne will be a fantastic spokesman for the NationsBank corporate image."

NationsBank has one other vice chairman, chief financial officer James H. Hance, who is 52. But the real second-in-command at the company - and the heir apparent to Mr. McColl - is Kenneth D. Lewis, the president. Mr. Lewis, 49, oversees NationsBank's retail bank, its largest operating division.

Most observers do not view Mr. Payne as a likely successor to Mr. McColl, who is 61.

"I could see Billy being made the chairman at some point, but not the CEO," said J. Rucker McCarty, regional managing partner with executive recruiter Heidrick & Struggles in Atlanta. "Ken Lewis would always be the heir apparent to running the bank."

Mr. Payne said he had not discussed any other positions or titles with NationsBank. "I'm perfectly satisfied with the title I've been given, and I'm perfectly prepared for that to be my title throughout the balance of my career," he said.

Mr. Payne said he had been in discussions with NationsBank about the vice chairman's job for six or seven weeks before he finally made his decision last Tuesday night, during a conversation with his wife.

After his successful management of the Atlanta games, Mr. Payne no doubt faced a wide variety of career options. Mr. McCarty said he was aware of several large corporations that had sought Mr. Payne's services.

Peter Ueberroth, who ran the 1984 games in Los Angeles, subsequently became commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Mr. Payne said he chose NationsBank because of the friendships he'd developed there. During the late 1980s, Mr. Payne had worked with executives of NationsBank's Atlanta-based predecessor organization, Citizens and Southern Corp., to bring the games to Atlanta. Then, after Citizens was merged into NationsBank in 1992, he developed relationships with Mr. McColl and Mr. Lewis.

NationsBank was a $40 million sponsor of the Atlanta games and also provided a $300 million line of credit to the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, which Mr. Payne led.

"I had a great deal of confidence in the capabilities and integrity of those people," Mr. Payne said.

"I wanted to get into a position that allowed me to stay in Atlanta, which was very important to me, and have a base to stay involved in community affairs," he added.

Mr. Payne declined to disclose his salary at NationsBank. He made more than $600,000 a year at the Atlanta Olympics committee. Most observers estimate that at NationsBank he'll make about $1 million, with bonuses.

Mr. Payne will take up his duties at NationsBank on Feb. 1, after completing his remaining responsibilities with the Olympics committee.

Mr. Payne is a native of Athens, Ga. Before joining the Olympics committee, he worked as a real estate attorney in Atlanta.

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