Paul F. Walsh, who formerly headed investment product businesses at Banc One Corp., has been named president and chief executive of Wright Express Corp. in South Portland, Maine.

Wright Express, a specialist in fleet credit cards and related information services, was acquired last year by SafeCard Services Inc., the rapidly diversifying credit card registration and loss-prevention company.

Mr. Walsh, 45, left Banc One last year over a reported strategy disagreement. He is expected to execute an aggressive growth plan for Wright Express, including new-product offerings and potential international growth.

"We are growing very rapidly and are well positioned for continued growth," said Mr. Walsh. "The challenges include how we can position ourselves for and absorb the growth."

John R. Birk, SafeCard's president and chief operating officer, described Mr. Walsh as "a mature, proven executive, with a style that is compatible with the current work force."

Mr. Walsh reports to Mr. Birk, the former Wright Express CEO, who in turn reports to SafeCard chairman Paul G. Kahn.

"The autocratic style of the 1960s and 1970s is gone," said Mr. Birk. He said Mr. Walsh works on the assumption that "the work force wants to participate, be empowered, and have a say in how the company is managed and run."

Mr. Walsh worked at Banc One for four years until he resigned in July as chairman and CEO of Banc One Investor Services Corp. At the time, Mr. Walsh cited philosophical differences with John B. McCoy, chairman of the Columbus, Ohio-based holding company.

Mr. Walsh had been responsible for investment services such as the company's network of 800 broker/dealer centers, personal and institutional trust units, an insurance group, and an investment advisory firm.

He previously was chief executive of Banc One Diversified Services Corp., which included mortgage, leasing, credit, insurance, and travel units.

Mr. Walsh's departure was one of several management defections and raised questions about Banc One's investment product intentions. Mr. McCoy has maintained that mutual funds and other investment services will remain important in retail strategy.

SafeCard is looking for marketing and product-development synergies with Wright Express, including cobranding opportunities. With a sophisticated information processing and accounting system, Wright serves some 40,000 corporate vehicle fleets. The fleet card is accepted at major service station chains that were joint customers of Wright and SafeCard.

Mr. Birk, who became chief operating officer Jan. 1 under Mr. Kahn, is contributing a strong marketing orientation. Before joining Wright in 1992, he was president and chief operating officer of Advo Inc., the largest direct-mail marketing company.

"Paul (Walsh) has proven his ability to innovate and grow businesses throughout his career," said Safecard chairman Kahn, who since arriving in late 1993 has overhauled management and engineered the $36 million Wright Express deal.

Mr. Kahn previously headed AT&T Universal Card Services, initiating what has become one of the biggest and most successful cobranded bank card programs. He is a crusader for quality in customer service, which he believes is ensured by a motivated and empowered work force.

In part because Banc One has a similar culture, Mr. Birk does not expect Mr. Walsh's transition to be difficult.

From 1987 until he joined Banc One in 1990, Mr. Walsh was senior vice president at Norwest Capital Management and Trust. He held a number of domestic and international management positions at Citicorp from 1974 to 1987, including those of chairman and CEO at Diners Club of Germany.

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