Saying he has a sense of "ownership" about the strategies in place at Old Kent Financial Corp., president David Wagner took on the additional title of chief executive on Wednesday.

Carrying out a plan that was announced a year ago, Mr. Wagner succeeds John C. Canepa, who will remain a part of the company's senior management until August. Mr. Canepa will serve as an "outside" chairman of the board until 1997.

In an interview this week, Mr. Wagner said that after spending the past few years in Old Kent's senior management, he is unlikely to want to see radical changes in policies he helped develop.

"We plan to grow our major lines of business and expand the scope of Old Kent's franchise by acquisitions of traditional banks and within lines of business," Mr. Wagner said.

Old Kent, with $11 billion in assets, specializes in middle-market lending and retail banking in Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio. It also has $3 billion under management in proprietary mutual funds.

The bank has become an active participant in the mortgage servicing business recently, via an acquisition in Orlando and the opening of a mortgage servicing office in San Antonio, Tex.

"Balance is very important to us," said Mr. Wagner, 40. "We have not been big believers in focusing attention on too narrow a group of opportunities. We don't want to overemphasize the retail side of the business at the expense of the wholesale side, for example."

Despite the recent rise in interest rates, which has lured some consumers back to certificates of deposit, Mr. Wagner said he believes mutual funds will continue to be a good business.

"Two things are happening to the baby boomers right now: They have to start planning for retirement, and they are inheriting money from their parents. That means a boom for the investment management industry," he said.

While Old Kent showed small earnings gains in the fourth quarter and the full year of 1994, some of its historically stellar performance measures slipped a bit. The return on equity was 16.04%, compared with the prior year's 16.65%, while return on assets at yearend was 1.33%, versus 1.38%.

However, continuing to provide shareholder value is the best way to maintain the bank's independence, Mr. Wagner said. "The reality is, you need to run your organization so that you're a very expensive target."

Mr. Wagner will be replaced as chief executive of Old Kent's lead bank in Grand Rapids, Mich., by Robert L. Sadler, who is president of Old Kent Bank-Michigan.

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