Chase Manhattan Corp. can start to prepare for a change at the top.

Walter V. Shipley, chairman and chief executive officer, told analysts at a dinner in February that he plans to retire no later than Nov. 2, 2000, his 65th birthday.

That led some analysts-a group that has long been wondering about the money-center bank's succession plan-to say they are expecting an heir apparent to be selected by the end of this year.

The dinner in the Chase corporate dining room "got people thinking again," said Lawrence Cohn, an analyst at Ryan, Beck & Co. and one of 22 who attended the event.

A Chase spokesman said Mr. Shipley has long indicated his intention to leave around his 65th birthday. But analysts believe the chairman is now beginning to focus on naming a successor.

"The lack of a designated successor thus far could be tied to the bank's pursuit of a merger partner," said Sean Ryan, an analyst at Bear, Stearns & Co.

Marc J. Shapiro is the current favorite to be the $366 billion-asset company's next chief executive.

Mr. Shapiro, 51, is vice chairman of finance and risk management.

Since he arrived at Chase in the fall of 1997 from its Texas subsidiary, he has been one of four candidates considered most likely to succeed Mr. Shipley.

The others are said to be William B. Harrison Jr., 55, head of global corporate banking; James B. Lee Jr., 46, who runs investment banking; and Donald H. Layton, 48, the global markets chief.

Like Mr. Shapiro, each is a vice chairman heading profitable business lines.

Speculation about a successor to Mr. Shipley began as early as December 1997, when he and Thomas G. Labrecque, president and chief operating officer, announced a new nine-member executive committee.

In a joint statement, Mr. Shipley and Mr. Labrecque said the leader of the new bank would be selected from that committee.

Mr. Shapiro, Mr. Harrison, Mr. Lee, and Mr. Layton are in that group with Donald L. Boudreau, 58, vice chairman and head of retail; Joseph G. Sponholz, 55, vice chairman and head of Chase Technology Solutions; and Denis J. O'Leary, 42, executive vice president and head of retail delivery.

Analysts do not see Mr. Labrecque, 60, as the next CEO.

"He is not from the next generation," said Ronald Mandle, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

"At the New York banks, the tradition is to appoint someone who has a 12- to 15-year time frame" as chief executive.

It is more likely that Mr. Labrecque, who was chairman of the old Chase Manhattan Corp. before it merged with Mr. Shipley's Chemical Banking Corp., would take the role of chairman for two years.

The ultimate successor would take the title of CEO or president and CEO, observers suggested.

"It comes down to how quickly the bank will want to turn to the next generation of leadership," said Charles Wendel, president of Financial Institutions Consulting in New York.

Mr. Shapiro is given a slight edge in part because he already has experience as a CEO. From 1989 to 1997 he presided over Texas Commerce Bank, which Chemical acquired in 1987 and has since renamed Chase Bank Texas.

Mr. Shapiro, who has a reputation for strict fiscal discipline, has presided over some of the most important changes at Chase since his move to New York. He has led a $510 million reengineering project since last spring, and he is responsible for introducing a new financial reporting structure in the business units.

"He has a perception of strength," said Carla D'Arista, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co.

"He has had a hand in guiding the company."

Mr. Harrison, Mr. Lee, and Mr. Layton are also high on analysts' lists because of their track records in global corporate and wholesale activities.

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