CHICAGO - Michael S. Blum, chairman and chief executive of Heller International Corp., died Sunday in Berlin.

He was 56 years old and died of natural causes, the commercial finance company said. He was on a good-will visit to Germany with a group from the American Jewish Committee.

Mr. Blum joined Heller, a subsidiary of Fuji Bank of Japan, in 1986, after almost 20 years with General Electric Co. and GE Credit. Initially president of Heller Real Estate Financial Services, he rose to vice chairman of Heller Financial Inc., Heller International's primary operating subsidiary, in 1987.

He became CEO of Heller International in 1990 and was credited with focusing the company on several core activities, emphasizing customer relationship management, and fostering teamwork.

"As saddened as we are, we are also grateful that Mike left Heller a strong company, well positioned for the future," said Richard J. Almeida, chief financial officer.

Heller's executive committee is expected to convene a board meeting within two weeks to designate a successor.

Mr. Blum is survived by his widow, Sandy, and three children.

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