SAN FRANCISCO - The rumor mill over who will succeed Richard M. Rosenberg as chairman of BankAmerica Corp. is churning furiously since a newspaper reported that the bank had hired an executive search firm to compile a list of possible candidates.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported last week that BankAmerica's board of directors had hired Korn Ferry International to come up with a list, which will include executives from outside the bank.

Ted Ward, a vice president in Korn Ferry's San Francisco office, denied the report. "We do not have the assignment," he said. "I told that to the Chronicle reporter a few weeks ago, and I'm saying it now."

A BankAmerica spokesman said he could not comment about the report.

The B of A spokesman reiterated earlier statements that Mr. Rosenberg, 65, plans to stay on at least through the end of this year, and possibly longer.

The spokesman added that BankAmerica doesn't have a mandatory retirement age for its chairman and chief executive. Mr. Rosenberg's predecessor, A.W. Clausen, stepped down in 1990 at the age of 67, the spokesman noted. He added that every chief executive in the bank's history has come from inside.

Philip M. Hawley, chairman of the executive personnel and compensation committee of BankAmerica's board of directors, also declined to comment.

BankAmerica watchers have long seen vice chairman and chief financial officer Lewis W. Coleman, 53, as the anointed successor to Mr. Rosenberg. He is the only BankAmerica executive, other than Mr. Rosenberg, who currently serves as a director.

And he has held a wide range of positions at the bank since moving over from Wells Fargo & Co. in 1986. His first assignment was as chief credit officer for international banking, where he helped solve BankAmerica's Third World lending woes.

He then added responsibility for all international banking, capital markets, and commercial banking activities in the Northwest.

Another possible successor is Frank N. Newman, who stepped down as vice chairman in 1993 to work in the Treasury Department.

The Chronicle article said these two men are still contenders. But it added that the board had hired Korn Ferry to see if any outside candidates would be better. The article went on to mention Jack Grundhofer, chairman of First Bank System Inc., Minneapolis, as one of the top outside candidates.

A First Bank spokeswoman labeled the report about Mr. Grundhofer "conjecture." She added, "Jack asked me to pass along that he is completely happy running First Bank."

A story in the San Francisco Examiner went further, quoting sources who reportedly said that an "internal candidate at BankAmerica will in all probability be crowned this year as Rosenberg's successor."

The article also reported that "the topic of a successor will come up in private" during BankAmerica's annual shareholder meeting, which is slated for May 25 in Chicago.

The BankAmerica spokesman said it was too early to say if the subject of a successor to Mr. Rosenberg will be addressed at the meeting.

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