Martin G. McGuinn nearly turned his back on a financial services career when Mellon Bank Corp. came knocking in 1981.

"I didn't think banking was growing very much," Mr. McGuinn said. Indeed, after seven years as a banking lawyer with a prestigious New York firm, he had jumped in 1978 to Singer Co., the sewing machine and appliance maker, as managing counsel and head of strategic projects.

Putting his doubts aside, Mr. McGuinn took the chief counsel job at Mellon-and last Friday his gamble paid off big time. Mr. McGuinn, a 55- year-old vice chairman, was named to succeed Frank V. Cahouet as chairman and chief executive officer of the $45 billion-asset banking company at yearend.

Over the past 17 years, Mr. McGuinn has earned a reputation as one of Pittsburgh-based Mellon's most dynamic executives. The retail banking chief since 1993, he is credited with guiding Mellon's move into supermarket branches and video banking technology and with helping reshape Mellon into a fee-income machine.

Along the way, he has had a front-row seat on an industry where change, he said, has been "exciting but also very daunting."

"One thing that's good for the organization is I feel I've helped create the strategy," Mr. McGuinn said in a telephone interview Monday. But he acknowledged Mellon faces a more competitive and consolidating industry than ever before.

Those who know Mr. McGuinn say he is well equipped to lead Mellon into the 21st century.

Banking lawyer H. Rodgin Cohen, who first met Mr. McGuinn 28 years ago, said the banker was the best choice among several internal candidates to lead Mellon.

"No one else had his breadth of experience, and everything he focused on he did well," said Mr. Cohen, a partner with Sullivan & Cromwell, New York, where Mr. McGuinn worked in the 1970s.

In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Cahouet sang his successor's praises. "He has broad experience with the company, he has run a number of parts of the company, and he was an integral part of the strategy. Couple that with excellent performance," Mr. Cahouet said.

Mr. McGuinn said he wasn't ready to discuss in detail his plans for Mellon.

He did say that acquisitions will likely focus on niche businesses-asset management, trust, mutual funds-that Mellon has built aggressively in recent years. Bank acquisitions, on the other hand, will depend "on opportunities."

Some analysts give Mellon less chance of being taken over now that it has tapped a successor to Mr. Cahouet, who was brought in more than 10 years ago to clean up the bank's troubled loans. He led Mellon's reformation into a "broad-based financial services company with a bank at its core," as the company likes to refer to itself.

Still, some believe Mellon, which last year discussed merging with CoreStates Financial Corp. and Bank of New York Co., may need to do an acquisition to stay competitive in the long run. "As good a job as they're doing, it's going to be difficult" to survive otherwise, said analyst Anthony Davis of SBC Warburg Dillon, Read & Co.

Mr. Cahouet says his successor will have the help of a top-notch management team, notably his No. 2, Christopher M. "Kip" Condron, a vice chairman who will become president and chief operating officer at yearend. Mr. Condron's portfolio of duties includes oversight of Dreyfus Corp., the banking company's $95 billion-asset mutual fund subsidiary.

"Both are exceptional executives," Mr. Cahouet said. "Marty has a good grasp of all parts of the organization and with Kip he has tremendous and exceptional grasp of the asset management business."

Before inheriting the keys to the corner office at yearend, Mr. McGuinn will become chairman and chief executive officer of Mellon's lead bank unit April 1.

A former Marine Corps captain who served in Vietnam, he went on to endure the banking equivalent of combat: the commercial real estate debacle of the 1980s. He was one of just a handful of senior Mellon executives to survive the company's turmoil in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Although Mr. McGuinn says he doesn't see many differences between his management style and Mr. Cahouet's, observers view things differently. They expect some refreshing changes.

"Frank was not comfortable communicating with the investment community," said James Schutz, an analyst with ABN Amro Chicago Corp. and a former Mellon vice president. "Marty seems to be more open."

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