In a tempestuous era for many super-regional banks, Richard M. Kovacevich is steaming full speed ahead.

President and chief executive of Norwest Corp., Minneapolis, Mr. Kovacevich is running a 50-state financial services operation built atop a 15-state Midwest banking franchise.

The $57 billion-asset company is performing at an outstanding level. Its third quarter 1.45% annualized return on average assets compares with a 1.28% average median return for banks in its peer group, according to Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. Norwest also enjoys the second-highest trading multiple in its size category, a healthy 200% of book value.

But that isn't enough for Mr. Kovacevich, who holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from Stanford University. The former Citicorp executive is exhorting Norwest's employees to greater heights of service and innovation, openly aspiring to win recognition as "one of America's great companies."

To accomplish this, Mr. Kovacevich has some powerful engines at his disposal. Norwest Financial Services Inc. operates in 46 U.S. states and all 10 Canadian provinces, and it delivered a whopping 3.91% ROA in the third quarter. Norwest's mortgage banking subsidiary operates in all 50 U.S. states and posted a 1.5% ROA.

Experts say just by lifting Norwest's banking operations, which reported an annualized 1.14% third quarter return on assets, Mr. Kovacevich can reach even higher performance levels.

And the executive, who soon will assume the additional duties of chairman, aims to do just that.

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