Though Verne G. Istock is still considered to be a contender to permanently succeed retired Bank One Corp. chief executive officer John B. McCoy, market watchers said Tuesday that they are increasingly convinced the board of directors will choose a leader from outside the Chicago banking company.

"Doing the right thing is on the board's mind," said Lori Appelbaum, an analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. "The sense is that a broader search is being conducted."

Bank One said it has hired a New York executive search firm, Russell Reynolds Associates, to find a permanent successor to Mr. McCoy, who retired suddenly in December. Mr. Istock was named chief executive officer on an interim basis.

Two former bankers have emerged as strong candidates: David A. Coulter, former president of Bank of America Corp., and Michael O'Neill, a former Bank of America executive who was to become CEO of London's Barclays PLC before health problems forced him to decline the post early last year. Mr. Coulter did not return a phone call at deadline; Mr. O'Neill, reached by phone, said he had not been contacted but would be interested in talking to Bank One. "I'm looking to get back to banking or something in finance," he said.

Talk that James Dimon, former president of Citigroup Inc., might take over Bank One has cooled as market watchers grow skeptical that he would want to move his family from New York to Chicago.

Two current bankers are also rumored to be candidates: Marc J. Shapiro, vice chairman of finance and risk management at Chase Manhattan Corp., and Jerry Grundhofer, CEO of Firstar Corp. Spokesmen for both banking companies declined to comment.

Tuesday, in his first investor presentation as interim CEO, Mr. Istock was forced to deliver bad news: Profits are expected to fall 19% this year as the company struggles to turn around its First USA Inc. credit card division.

"They are in need of new leadership," said Michael Mayo, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston.

"They need to bring in someone who had firsthand knowledge of the credit card business," said Katrina Blecher, an analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.

Analysts and investors said Bank One's board needs to act quickly. "The most important thing is to get back to the day-to-day business of running the bank," said Henry C. Dickson, an analyst at Salomon Smith Barney. Related Stories:
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