Washington Mutual Inc. has tapped a veteran Great Western Financial executive and another from its own ranks to supervise its 450 retail branches in California.

Dyan Beito, senior vice president of consumer banking, will supervise Washington Mutual's 193 Northern California branches. She had a similar post at Great Western, where she worked for 17 years.

Michael Amato, who has the same title as Ms. Beito, will run Washington Mutual's Southern California branches. Mr. Amato, who has worked at Wamu since 1982, was most recently in charge of retail branches at American Savings Bank, an Irvine thrift that was acquired in December.

The two executives are poised to play key roles after the merger of their two thrifts because retail branches are expected to be a centerpiece of Washington Mutual's drive to boost revenues at the former Great Western franchise.

In a joint interview last week, the executives said they were meeting with each branch manager to talk about Washington Mutual's culture and goals and to answer questions.

Mr. Amato said they want to ensure that branch managers have "a good feel for the goals of the company, what we're trying to accomplish, and how we're going to do it."

Those meetings also gave the new executives a chance to size up their teams, said analyst Campbell Chaney of Sandler O'Neill, San Francisco.

"They're going to have to determine who has the talents to do the job and who doesn't," Mr. Chaney said. They will be looking for branch managers who can "hustle business," he said.

Washington Mutual hopes to attract customers by offering free checking and aggressively selling them loans, annuities, and other products.

Though half of all banking transactions in California are done via telephone, mail, or computer, customers still open accounts in person at retail branches, said R. Jay Tejera, an analyst at Dain Bosworth Inc., Minneapolis.

Customers also visit branches when they have problems with their accounts, he noted, making branches an important tool to recruit customers and keep their business.

Mr. Tejera said Washington Mutual typically gives its branch managers a great deal of leeway on staffing and pricing decisions. That makes "the hiring of branch managers and care and feeding of those branch managers ... very important," he said.

Washington Mutual has also named two executives to run the Florida branches it gained in the Great Western deal. John Woodworth, who joined the Seattle-based thrift in 1972 and recently managed its Utah, Idaho, and Montana branches, will be senior vice president of the northern Florida region.

Gwynn Virostek, who had worked at Great Western since 1990, is to manage the southern Florida branches.

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