James E. Gilleran, California's top bank regulator, on Monday said he will become chief executive of a long-troubled private bank in San Francisco.

Mr. Gilleran, who for the last five years has been a frequent and sometimes controversial player in state and federal bank regulation, will become chairman and chief executive officer of Bank of San Francisco and its parent, San Francisco Co.

"I was attracted to it because it's a significant independent bank in San Francisco," Mr. Gilleran said. "For 25 years San Francisco has been what you would call my beat. And the opportunity to run the Bank of San Francisco was a very attractive one."

Mr. Gilleran replaces Kent D. Price, the former Bank of New England executive who has run Bank of San Francisco for the past year. Mr. Price is credited with stabilizing the bank and raising $20 million in capital.

"We are on a solid path to recovery and we believe Jim Gilleran can take us the rest of the way there," said Mr. Price, who is leaving to become a senior executive with IBM in Asia.

Mr. Gilleran, who starts work on Oct. 1, said, "My job will be to return the bank to profitability as soon as possible."

As superintendent of the California State Banking Department, Mr. Gllleran was in a position to observe Bank of San Francisco's many attempts to pull

itself out of the spiral of losses it has been in since 1991. For the three years ended in December 1993, the $215 million-asset bank lost more than $40 million. In the first quarter, the latest for which figures were available, the bank lost another $3.2 million.

During that time, the bank has gone through a number of management changes and redirections in strategy. Founded in 1979 to serve San Francisco's wealthy, the bank took a beating in 1990 on real estate lending. Then it briefly redirected itself as a small-business lender in 1992, only to repudiate the strategy with the appointment of Mr. Price in August 1993.

Mr. Price put the bank back on a private banking course. He spent about a month this summer in the Pacific Rim trying to drum up investor interest for a stock offering.

Putra Masagung came to the bank's rescue. The Indonesian shopping center magnate ponied up $20 million last month to boost the bank's capital ratio. The infusion brought Mr. Masagung's total investment in the bank to more than $40 million, or roughly the amount of money the bank has lost in the past three years.

"It's a good strategy," Mr. Gilleran said of the bank's private banking focus. "The bank has to be made profitable, and there comes a point when you have to quit cutting costs and start raising revenues to do that. That is what I hope to do." Mr. Gilleran has never run a bank. He retired in 1987 after 20 years in the San Francisco office of Peat Marwick. Until his appointment in 1989 as superintendent of banks, he was president of Commonwealth Group, a San Francisco corporate finance boutique. In 1992, the final year of the Bush administration, he was appointed comptroller of the currency but was never continued.

Mr. Gilleran's job change caught Carl J. Schmitt, chairman of University National Bank and Trust Co., by surprise.

"He's done a very good job as superintendent," said Mr. Schmitt, who switched his bank's charter this year from national to state. "He has maintained a strong hand on safety and soundness without going ballistic as the other regulators have with respect to regulations."

Mr. Schmitt was superintendent of California banks from 1975 to 1978.

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