William H. Chadwick, the president and chief executive officer of Banknorth Group Inc., said Thursday that he intends to retire by the end of the year.

Mr. Chadwick, who has led the $4.4 billion-asset bank company for seven years, will step down as soon as a successor is found, the company said.

Mr. Chadwick led Vermont's Howard Bancorp from 1986 until it was merged with Banknorth in 1989. He became president of the combined company in 1992.

Mr. Chadwick said his departure would not stop Banknorth from considering buying branches that would be divested after the merger of Fleet Financial Group and BankBoston Corp.

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