Part of the pleasure for Richard Bialek in his new role with Visa International is getting to explore another part of the country.

This is not meant to downplay the need to mine new parts of the consumer credit business, a constant preoccupation at the San Francisco-based card association.

"We are trying to achieve some balance in building on our core successful business," said Mr. Bialek, who moved from Chicago in the fall to become senior vice president of consumer credit products.

"The idea is that you need to keep pursuing changes even when things are going well."

For what is sure to be meager leisure time, the San Francisco Bay Area beckons.

"My family gives me excuses to do fun things, such as hiking," said Mr. Bialek, who is married and has three daughters. "We've already seen the North and Texas, and now we're trying the West Coast. We're very excited about that."

Mr. Bialek has been on the job at Visa since September. The 37-year-old Chicago native handles classic card and general brand development activity, including Visa Gold and other consumer product initiatives.

He had worked for Ameritech in Chicago since 1988, initiating its cobranded bank credit card/telephone calling product. Previously, he was based at GE Capital in Stamford, Conn., organizing the start-up venture leading to Monogram Bank and implementing its private-label card product and portfolio strategy.

A graduate of both Harvard College and Harvard Graduate School of Business, Mr. Bialek managed credit and credit marketing while creating a mail-order business for Neiman-Marcus in Dallas. He also worked as a consultant for Cresap McCormick & Paget.

His supervisor, Visa executive vice president Richard Hagadorn, describes Mr. Bialek as having "already gathered several checkered flags in the industry, both in bank and nonbank settings.

"He had a good background for what we're trying to do," Mr. Hagadorn added. "He's an entrepreneurial kind of person."

Mr. Bialek said he is pleased with his new corporate environs.

"People here are imaginative, go-at-it people," he said. "They have afforded me the chance to gain a strategic perspective on payment services.

"I have the opportunity of working to build on a 10-year strategy," he went on. "We had a remarkable year in 1994, showing 20%-plus growth despite a Christmas season that was pretty much flat."

He believes, though, that changes will be required to sustain this momentum.

"We must be aware of new technologies, such as chip cards applied with stored value, as well as new players," said Mr. Bialek. "Interest in interactive technologies, where everything is done through wires and computers, like over the Internet and electronic commerce, can be expected to continue."

In terms of expanding Visa's customer base, Mr. Bialek expects the company to continue to seek wider merchant acceptance and compete for emerging niches like the college market.

"We want to work with members to add value to cards," he added, "and give customers more reasons to use them."

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