Thomas H. O'Brien, chairman and chief executive officer of PNC Bank Corp., announced his retirement Thursday and passed the baton to his longtime lieutenant, James E. Rohr.

Mr. O'Brien, 63, said he would relinquish his CEO title on May 1 and will stay on as chairman until May of next year. Mr. Rohr, 51, currently president and chief operating officer, will take on Mr. O'Brien's duties on those dates while retaining the president's title. Analysts said Mr. Rohr's appointment as successor was widely expected.

A third member of the office of the chairman, Walter E. Gregg Jr., 58, will remain vice chairman.

The $75 billion-asset company quintupled in size during Mr. O'Brien's 15-year tenure as CEO, a feat accomplished through a series of acquisitions to expand into New Jersey and other neighboring states and to build up profitable fee-generating businesses.

The company is built around seven core businesses, which range from retail, corporate, and mortgage banking to securities processing and investment management.

At a press conference at PNC's Pittsburgh headquarters, Mr. Rohr promised to build on that record. PNC, which is sometimes mentioned as an attractive takeover target, is "committed to remaining independent," Mr. Rohr said in response to a question. "We believe there are not only challenges but tremendous opportunities" in the years ahead.

Mr. Rohr also indicated he would not drastically change PNC's strategic direction. He did say the company would turn more of its attention to technology issues. "E-commerce is the biggest change we've seen in the last 25 to 30 years," he said. "It is important that we keep pace."

Mr. Rohr "brings an understanding of technology and e-commerce, which are becoming increasingly important in our business," Mr. Gregg said at the press conference.

The succession has been years in the planning, Mr. O'Brien said at the press conference.

"I had hoped to be able to move out earlier than I did," said Mr. O'Brien, who added that his discussions with the company's board of directors about appointing a successor began over two years ago but heated up last fall. "We have been in transition … and a year ago I didn't feel as though we had taken quite enough steps. Now is the perfect time."

PNC has dramatically shifted its focus toward fee-based sources of income over the last several years. Like its crosstown rival Mellon Financial Corp., the company has aggressively built up businesses that focus on the investment community.

And the building has intensified in the last year. In December, PNC finalized its $1.1 billion purchase of First Data Investor Services Group, a provider of services to mutual funds and retirement plans. Investor Services Group will be integrated with PFPC Worldwide, PNC's global fund services subsidiary. The combined organization provides fund accounting services for $346 billion of global fund assets and transfer agency services for 33 million shareholder accounts.

Last year the company also bought the closely held brokerage and asset manager Hilliard-Lyons Inc., based in Louisville, Ky., for $275 million, in a bid to expand its asset management business.

Mr. O'Brien joined PNC in 1962 and served as vice chairman from 1983 to 1985 before being named CEO. He has a master's degree in business from Harvard University and an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame.

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