Following in the footsteps of other large banks, Sanwa Bank California has gone outside the industry to hire an upper-level retail executive.

Angela Blackburn, formerly involved with catalogue sales and customer satisfaction for outdoor outfitter Eddie Bauer Inc., is vice president in charge of Sanwa's 24-hour telephone banking center.

Ms. Blackburn, who started Sept. 8, did similar work for Nordic Track, a company known for its exercise machine, before her stint at Eddie Bauer.

In a recent interview, Ms. Blackburn said she was initially skeptical about working for the $7.8 billion-asset Japanese subsidiary. But "after one week on board, I felt very much at home. The issues are very similar."

Sanwa Bank California, based in Los Angeles, said it intends first to consolidate its existing telephone banking operations and then expand them under Ms. Blackburn.

"To us, the sense of this move is fairly self-evident," said Doug Stewart, first executive vice president for marketing. "It's a realization that it's a sales and customer service business. Angie will be one of our cornerstones in this area."

Ms. Blackburn is another example of a trend in banking to bring specialists from outside the profession, particularly from the retail sector, to head up consumer operations.

Among the more recent examples: William I. Campbell, who retired as chairman of Philip Morris U.S.A. in June 1995 and became an executive vice president at Citibank last winter; Kenneth T. Stevens, former president and chief operations officer of Taco Bell Corp., who was hired last spring to head Banc One Corp.'s retail group, and K. Brent Somers, formerly of U.S. Shoe Corp., who went to KeyCorp in January.

"It is an established trend," said L. Parker Harrell Jr., in the Washington office of Korn/Ferry International, an executive search firm. "The banks try to go to the companies that look similar, like Bank of America going to Wal-Mart, for example, because both have a lot of outlets."

Such initiatives have come at a price, however. Citibank hired many such nonbank executives during the past two decades, and several did not work out, said Robert S. Rollo, managing partner of R. Rollo Associates, an executive search firm in Los Angeles.

"A lot of pioneers get killed," he said. "The Indians shot a lot of arrows into the pioneers. Citibank hired hordes of these people, and the attrition rate was real high, but some stuck."

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