Thus, until they become CEO themselves--if they do--it's hard to know to what extent they agreed with the former No. 1's policies. And it's hard to know if they have real leadership ability.G. Kennedy Thompson, president and chief executive officer of First Union Corp., is being put to that test. Investors are skeptical. By mid-July, First Union's price-to-earnings ratio was less than eight, far lower than that of most banking companies. And it's far below Chicago-based Bank One Corp.'s p/e ratio of 11.5; Bank One, of course, had been under similar stress and now has a new CEO, Jamie Dimon, a former Citigroup executive. Unlike Dimon, who was brought in afresh, the 49-year-old Thompson has been with First Union for 24 years. But his climb to the top ranks of the company has been fairly recent, and he is not well known to the investment community.He quickly took the bull by the horns, however, and last month announced the bank would take an after-tax hit of $2.8 billion. A big part of that write-down reflects the decision to discontinue home equity lending activities at The Money Store, which First Union acquired in 1998.Thompson also told analysts that First Union would not be an aggressive acquirer of other banks and other financial services companies, as it had been in the recent past. That should make the markets happy.But, being a loyal warrior, the new CEO said that his policies are not a repudiation of those of his predecessor, Edward E. Crutchfield, who resigned as CEO earlier this year for health reasons. In the meantime, the market is waiting to see.

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