Visa International is looking for two executives to fill the shoes of Jean-Jacques Desbons, chief executive of its Europe-Middle East-Africa region for the last three years.

Mr. Desbons, 60, a former French banker, announced last week that he will step down as soon as a successor is named. He cited a heart condition and a desire to cut back on his workload.

The workload was daunting, and not just because of the burgeoning credit card and debit card growth across both the established and emerging countries of Europe.

Visa last year split its London-based regional organization into two parts. One, Visa EU, covers the 12 countries of the European Union, the seven of the European Free Trade Association, Turkey, and Israel.

The other region, Visa CEMEA, combines the more developing markets of Central or Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Visa established separate boards for those regions, and while it was searching for a CEMEA executive, both organizations continued to report to Mr. Desbons.

Now two posts are open.

Visa said it has internal candidates for both and expects to fill the CEMEA job before Visa EU. It is also looking for candidates worldwide.

Once a new president is named for Visa EU, Mr. Desbons will become senior adviser to Edmund P. Jensen, president and chief executive officer of Visa International. Mr. Desbons will work on a part-time basis from his home in Paris.

"Jean-Jacques can provide invaluable assistance in the separation of activities between Visa EU and CEMEA and their integration with Visa International," Mr. Jensen said.

Like other regions including Visa U.S.A. and Visa Canada, Visa EU has an autonomous board and authority to make acquisitions, enter into alliances, develop products for local markets, and establish regulations.

CEMEA has its own corporate and board structures and should be fully operational by June, Mr. Jensen said. Once a chief executive takes over, headquarters may be moved from London.

"We formed this new region so we could focus directly on it and bring resources to bear on emerging markets," Mr. Jensen said. "There are over a billion people in mostly developing, emerging economies."

Visa's regional restructuring and search for new leadership comes at a time of heightened competition from its principal rival, Europay International, which has close ties to MasterCard.

Based in Waterloo, Belgium, Europay was created Sept. 1, 1992, out of the merger of two European consumer payment systems, Eurocard/MasterCard and Eurocheque.

At about the same time, Mr. Desbons took the reins of Visa Europe-Middle East-Africa. As a banker he served on the EMEA board from 1981 to 1988.

"He brought that region together from what apparently was a somewhat splintered group," Mr. Jensen said. He described Visa EU as a region that has "lots of potential" and is "very important to us."

It encompasses a geographic area comparable to the United States and has similar demographics. But Visa's Europe-Middle East-Africa totals - $290 billion in annual sales volume and 106 million cards - still trail those in the United States.

Preliminary numbers for 1994 show 14% growth in EMEA payment volume, to $212 billion, and 10% growth in cards, to 77.9 million. Membership grew 15.7%, to 2,600 financial institutions.

Mr. Desbons joined Visa International in 1989 as executive vice president of worldwide product marketing, based in San Francisco. He came from Factofrance Heller, the leading asset-based lending company in France, where he was general manager.

Before that, Mr. Desbons worked 11 years with Credit Industriel et Commercial, beginning his tenure there in 1977 managing 13 banks. After CIC was nationalized in 1983, he was named head of retail banking. Three years later, he became secretary general of the bank's executive committee.

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