The architect of Barnett Banks Inc.'s small-business strategy has left the Jacksonville, Fla., company and is reportedly looking for a new job.

A Barnett spokesman said Steven Hickman, who worked 10 years at the company, had left voluntarily May 30. Mr. Hickman, 43, could not be reached to comment.

"Many people regard Barnett as a leading small-business bank, and Steve has been given and deserves most of the credit for that reputation," said Craig Zander, vice president of M&I Bank in Milwaukee, a unit of Marshall & Ilsley Corp.

Mr. Hickman's departure came as Barnett shuffled its operations to focus on consumer banking rather than small business. Mr. Hickman had taken his post as director of small-business banking when Barnett formed the division in 1992.

Mr. Hickman had worked under former Wells Fargo & Co. banker Douglas K. Freeman, who directed Barnett's corporate banking.

Ten months ago, Mr. Freeman took the helm at Barnett's newly created consumer credit division, which the bank plans to use to expand nationwide.

His departure left many wondering where Mr. Hickman would go now.

Small-business bankers tend to be among the most aggressively courted in the industry, with conferences frequently functioning as networking sessions.

"Obviously there are a lot of institutions that would value his skills and expertise," said Les Dinkin, managing principal of Connecticut-based NBW Consulting Group. "He has a lot of options open, but these things don't happen overnight."

Barnett, the 40th-largest bank lender to small business nationwide, developed many products for small businesses, including equipment leasing programs, computerized banking, and preapproved credit lines.

In addition to his work at Barnett, Mr. Hickman achieved prominence in the industry as chairman of the Consumer Bankers Association's small- business committee.

"He is one of the premier small-business bankers in the country and is very highly regarded in the industry," said Joe Belew, president of the association.

Barnett's strategy contradicted the prevailing trend in small-business banking. Although it had centralized loan underwriting and documentation, it served entrepreneurs through branch offices.

"He shares his ideas and gets ideas from others," said M&I's Mr. Zander, "and that has helped him establish himself as one of the foremost authorities in small-business banking." u

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