Since taking the top post at Chase Manhattan Corp., William B. Harrison Jr. has developed a reputation as a leader willing to bring in top talent from outside the bank.

On the surface his recruitment of investment banker Geoffrey T. Boisi, whose merchant banking boutique, Beacon Group, Chase agreed Wednesday to acquire, was consistent with that reputation.

But Mr. Boisi's new role, which will also result in the surprising replacement of James B. Lee Jr., one of Chase's best-known senior executives, as head of the company's investment banking operations, was two years in the making. Over that time, Mr. Boisi's Beacon has worked in the background with Chase as one of its investment banks, advising it on "strategic thinking," said Mr. Harrison. "I worked very closely with him" and was impressed, he said of Mr. Boisi.

Still, the corporate shakeup came as a surprise to analysts, who expressed divergent opinions about its meaning, some underscoring that Mr. Lee will still remain a strong voice within Chase, others suggesting the shifting roles raise more questions than they answer.

Mr. Lee will continue to be a vice chairman of Chase and a member of its senior executive committee. As head of the investment bank, he presided not only over Chase's huge bond and trading operations but most recently over Chase H&Q, the new name for San Francisco-based investment banking boutique Hambrecht & Quist, which Chase acquired late last year. His duties also extended over the investment banking operations of Robert Flemings Inc, the U.K.-based asset management firm Chase is in the process of acquiring.

Turmoil in the executive ranks could make the process of integrating Chase H&Q, Flemings, and now Beacon Group, more treacherous.

"You have a few managers running businesses that have never worked together before and that's going to require more CEO intervention and more coordination than they might have needed in the past," said Michael Mayo, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston.

"Any time you have turmoil or change at an investment banking operation, it hurts revenues, because people become distracted," said George Bicher, an analyst at Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown. "If you were an investment banker at Chase yesterday, you knew your position politically, you knew your compensation expectations, you knew what you were going to be working on. Today, all that's thrown out the window."

Some analysts also said the acquisition of Beacon, which specializes in Old Economy sectors such as energy and transportation, would seem contradictory to Chase's recent attempts to link itself to the New Economy sector through Chase H&Q and its venture capital unit, Chase Capital Partners.

"Chase is always talking about their exposure to the New Economy, and how they're financing the New Economy," Mr. Bicher said. "You bring in a guy who is a natural resources banker. It just smacks of corporate intrigue."

Chase was emphatic that Mr. Lee welcomed the reduction in his day-to-day management responsibilities. He is to report to Mr. Boisi, as well as to Mr. Harrison, once Mr. Boisi assumes his new role, which is scheduled for July.

In an interview Wednesday, William B. Harrison Jr., Chase's chairman and chief executive officer, said he had been talking in recent months with Mr. Lee about his "work/life" balance. Mr. Lee had expressed a desire to spend more time with his family.

And the move puts Mr. Lee back into the thick of his favorite task, deal making, from which he had been distanced as Chase expanded, Mr. Harrison said.

"It's a model that plays to Jimmy Lee's strengths, because it's more client-focused than he had been," said Mr. Harrison.

The moves are also in keeping with Mr. Harrison's policy of hiring high-level talent from the outside. Shortly after he took over as CEO last summer, Mr. Harrison hired a longtime consultant, Neal S. Garonzik to help develop a strategy for investment banking and asset management. Mr. Garonzik was a former executive of Morgan Stanley & Co.

More recently, Mr. Harrison hired Steven D. Black, the former head of equities at Salomon Smith Barney, to be managing director and head of Chase's institutional equities group.

Analysts said the Beacon Group, with 14 partners that include former Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and former BankAmerica Corp. president David A. Coulter, would bring in strong Wall Street management skills. It might also help attract more talent from Goldman Sachs. "If I'm selecting a culture from which I want to draw talent, Goldman is the perfect place to bring someone in," said Susan Roth, an analyst at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.

But before discussing buying the group, he first talked to Mr. Lee, who "liked the idea."

Mr. Lee developed a reputation during the 1980s doing leveraged buyouts while at Chemical Banking Corp., which has since merged with Chase. A flashy dresser with a flair for the dramatic, Mr. Lee became known, along with Mr. Harrison, for helping to transform Chase into a major wholesale banking operation.

Other analysts paint a dreamy scene in which Mr. Lee is finally getting rid of bothersome management duties and getting to focus on what he does best.

"He still likes to work on deals personally," said David Berry, director of research at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc.

Ronald I. Mandle, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., added, "It's really a case of where he's been working 28 hours a day, and he wants to get it down to a more manageable 25 or so."


Related Link:

Editor's Note: Each link opens a new browser window.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.