Wanderlust has struck Willard Bunn 3d.

And Mr. Bunn, who resigned at the end of last year as chairman of Banc One Corp.'s Illinois holding company, has found himself in investment banking.

After being focused on community and statewide banking for most of the past two decades, Mr. Bunn said he'll spend a lot more time chasing deals for his new employer, Chicago Corp.

"I do intend to be the kind of guy who gets and answers his messages," he said in an interview last week.

Mr. Bunn, 51, joined the Chicago firm in February as senior vice president and managing director in its financial services unit. He said he will be involved in private placements, public offerings, and merger-and- acquisition advising, drawing on knowledge and contacts accumulated over a commercial banking career dating back to the late 1960s.

"I had been CEO for 10 years, and everything with Banc One was very amicable, but the time came when I wanted to do something else," he said.

Mr. Bunn traveled far in search of that something else. He recently returned from the Czech Republic, and he has scheduled another trip to Poland to continue exploring business ventures in that part of the world.

He decided to hook up with Chicago Corp. after it became apparent that building his own business around Eastern European opportunities "would have been time-consuming - and required more patience than I had."

Chicago Corp. was a logical fit, not only because it offered Mr. Bunn the freedom he desired, but because he knew the firm through firsthand dealings.

"Chicago Corp. underwrote our initial public offering in 1986," Mr. Bunn said, referring to the market debut of his family's company, Marine Corp. of Springfield, Ill. The same firm advised Marine in its acquisition by Ohio-based Banc One Corp. on Jan. 1, 1992.

Marine Corp. and its subsidiary, Marine Bank, then $1.2 billion in assets, became the nucleus of Banc One Illinois, now over $4 billion in assets, and Mr. Bunn was the latter's chairman and chief executive officer.

Representing the fifth generation of a family that had owned Marine Bank since 1851, the Bunns are more identified with Bunn-o-Matic, a privately held maker of coffee machines that was founded by Mr. Bunn's uncle.

Though he didn't forsake his downstate roots, Mr. Bunn did become active in Chicago civic affairs, in keeping with Banc One's growing presence there. He became a board member of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, for example.

"Willard Bunn is well known to the banking community throughout the Midwest," said Jack Wing, chairman and chief executive of Chicago Corp. "He brings our financial services group valuable experience and perspective on the industry consolidation and financing issues that have dominated regional and subregional banking for the past several years."

"In the past two years, Chicago Corp. has completed more than 25 financial services financing, merger and acquisition, and advisory assignments, with an aggregate value of approximately $1.2 billion," said Jack Blumenstein, senior vice president and managing director for investment banking. "Having Willard on board will only add to our strength in this arena."

After earning degrees from Princeton University in 1966 and the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business in 1968, Mr. Bunn went to work for Chemical Bank in New York.

As a vice president, he opened Chemical's Toronto office in 1975 and supervised its operations until his promotion in 1977 to group head of Chemical's domestic depository institutions group, covering New England and New York State.

He went home to Marine Bank in 1978 as executive vice president, was elected president in 1980 and chairman and CEO in 1989.

Marine, based in the Illinois state capital, carved an important niche serving insurance companies. This was evident in the number of direct-debit premium payments that the bank originated through the automated clearing house network, where Marine's volume in this category was second only to that of Chase Manhattan Bank.

Mr. Bunn has not a bad word to say about his relationship with Banc One. From the beginning, he found Banc One's philosophy of maximizing the independence of local and regional managers compatible with his own banking aspirations.

More recently, Banc One modified that approach. It has "regionalized" three statewide organizations in the Midwest - Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. All are now reporting to Joseph D. Barnette in Indianapolis.

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