Covest Bancshares of Des Plaines, Ill., has hired James L. Roberts as president and chief executive officer.

The previous president, Larry G. Gillie, was fired in late August. The $549 million-asset company had failed to show much improvement after converting its subsidiary, Covest Banc, from a thrift to a national bank in 1997.

Mr. Roberts was president and CEO of Perpetual Midwest Financial Inc., a thrift holding company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, from 1993 until its sale last year to Commercial Federal of Omaha. Before joining $392 million-asset Perpetual he headed the corporate finance division of Kemper Securities Inc. in Chicago.

An analyst speculated that Mr. Roberts was hired to dress up Covest for a sale.

"He realizes the potential that these companies have," said Wayne Bopp, a bank analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co. in Milwaukee. "The only thing we're discussing now is whether they sell in a year or three years."

But Stephen Skiba, a bank analyst at ABN Amro Inc. in Chicago, said he expects Mr. Roberts to focus on improving Covest's performance and attracting commercial customers-a process that may take some time. "The directors are very supportive of this bank staying independent," he said.

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