Say goodbye to the old-style retail banker. Say hello to the Marlboro man and the taco king.

As commercial banks plunge into consumer businesses, they have become increasingly unsatisfied with their traditional talent. Instead, they are recruiting executives from as far afield as tobacco companies, fast-food chains, and optical retailers.

These recruits are setting the standards for a new generation of bankers, and may themselves rise to the very top posts in the industry, observers say.

"The banks realize that it is a consumer marketing strategy they're after," said headhunter Joseph T. Spence, with Russell Reynolds Associates in Atlanta. "They feel the traditional consumer retail banker has simply not kept up with the trends in the broader world of consumer marketing."

The scramble for talent comes as banks are increasingly pinning their hopes for the future on consumers rather than businesses. Loans to consumers now account for 45% of all loans on banks' books, up from 31% just 10 years ago.

The hiring in consumer marketing is only the most visible symptom of the changes in senior bank management. Banks are also looking to bolster their strength in technology, capital markets, and money management.

"We're a financial services industry," said Richard M. Kovacevich, chairman and chief executive of Norwest Corp. "It's much broader and the skills required for success aren't the skills that traditionally were part of the banking industry."

Mr. Kovacevich began his own career at General Mills, where he worked in corporate strategic planning before moving to an executive post in the Kenner Toys division.

First Union Corp. has emerged as perhaps the most aggressive recruiter from beyond banking. It has been actively raiding top mutual fund companies to fill posts like national head of trust and investments and consumer sales director for Georgia.

Dennis C. Bottorff, chairman and CEO of First American Corp., Nashville, recalls that hiring of nonbankers was a rarity when he entered the industry as a trainee in 1968.

"When people were hired from outside into high-level positions or middle management, it was almost a requirement that they have banking experience to come into those positions," Mr. Bottorff said.

"Today, you see more generic job descriptions - sometimes even wanting experience outside of banking," he said. "If a bank has a big mutual funds management company, or a big mortgage banking operation, or securities operation, then you're seeing different kinds of people coming in."

Certainly the new breed stands apart.

When KeyCorp sought a new chief financial officer, it drafted K. Brent Somers, a veteran of U.S. Shoe Corp.'s fast-growing LensCrafters subsidiary. Though Mr. Somers had no experience in financial services, KeyCorp reckoned he could help turn it into a nationwide retailer as well.

When Banc One Corp. wanted to spice up its national retail operations, it turned to the president and chief executive of Taco Bell Corp., Kenneth T. Stevens. In announcing the hiring of Mr. Stevens as head of the company's retail group, chief executive John B. McCoy bluntly acknowledged that bankers lag others in merchandising, retailing, and selling.

And when Citicorp needed a new head of its sprawling branch system, it tapped William Campbell, a former chairman of Philip Morris U.S.A. Mr. Campbell, who had been advising Citicorp on marketing strategies for months, is seeking to make Citicorp's name loom large in consumer's minds - not just nationwide, but around the world.

This is not the first time the industry has reached to outsiders for marketing talent.

"In the past, efforts were made to recruit from the consumer packaged goods industry. By and large almost all the executives recruited were gone within a year," said Randall W. Hill, an executive recruiter with Heidrick & Struggles, Los Angeles.

But now, experts say, the banking industry is much more committed to consumer marketing, from the top down. Indeed, bankers with a strong grounding in retail are starting to occupy the inner sanctums of bank management.

For instance, the No. 2 executives at two southeastern superregionals - Kenneth D. Lewis of NationsBank Corp. and Allen L. Lastinger Jr. of Barnett Banks Inc.- earned their spurs on the retail side of the business.

On the west coast, BankAmerica Corp.'s former chairman and chief executive Richard M. Rosenberg climbed the management ladder through marketing and advertising divisions, first at Wells Fargo & Co. and then at BankAmerica.

Of course, the huge bulk of top executives are cut from a more traditional cloth.

"The classic, credit-trained professional who grew and runs the bank is still very much the predominant 'CEO flavor,'" said Peter D. Crist, an executive recruiter in Chicago.

But increasingly, the corner office is attracting people with new, unbankerly skills.

Thomas M. Garrott, president and chief executive of National Commerce Bancorp., came to banking in 1982 straight from the grocery wholesaling scene. Since becoming CEO, he has shifted the Memphis-based bank away from traditional commercial lending to a supermarket branch-based retail strategy.

Mr. Garrott has little doubt that the banking industry needs the skills he and other retailers bring to the table.

"In the past, the talent pool was commercial lending, which at the end of the day is just one function," he said. "Banks now are doing 20 different things. While you still need commercial bankers, you need people with a breadth and depth of management skills."

Others agree, and say that the CEO suite is well within reach for the newcomers.

"There are many talented people from outside the industry coming in, and as time goes by, I would expect some of them to rise to the top," said Kevin Connelly, an executive recruiter with Spencer Stuart in Chicago.

The new breed of bank technologists may be especially well poised for upward mobility. These executives, who do everything from develop on-line banking to cut back-office expenses, command salaries between $500,000 and $1 million a year, according to Windle Priem, North American president of the executive research firm Korn/Ferry International, New York.

"At any given time in the business cycle, there are hot jobs," Mr. Priem said. "For financial organizations, this happens to be one of them."

Barton Crockett in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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