Fifth Third Bancorp said Wednesday that it has hired Ross J. Kari, a veteran of Safeco Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co., as its chief financial officer, ending a six-month search.
Mr. Kari will join the $116 billion-asset Cincinnati company Monday and will fill a position vacated when Christopher G. Marshall resigned in May. Daniel T. Poston, Fifth Third's controller, has been serving as the interim CFO.
"I think as much as the industry is going through trying times, Fifth Third will have the strength to survive and thrive," Mr. Kari said in an interview. "It's a great opportunity to be part of the management team that leads this company to grow and compete."
He was the CFO of Safeco from 2006 until September, when the Seattle insurance company sold itself to Liberty Mutual Group of Boston.
Executive recruiters said privately that Fifth Third was struggling to find a prized candidate, because it had a reputation for burning out finance chiefs. When Mr. Marshall became the CFO in 2004, he was the third person to hold the job in two years.
"The search, I'm sure, was challenging, because of that high level of executive turnover," a recruiter familiar with Fifth Third's hierarchy but not involved in the CFO hunt said in an interview Wednesday.
For weeks, analysts had expressed concern that Fifth Third was taking so much time to fill the CFO position, especially since it had made it known in August that it might divest businesses to shore up capital. Observers had been saying that the lengthy search could force Mr. Marshall's successor to play a tricky game of catch-up, especially on deals in the works.
However, Fifth Third reiterated Wednesday that it has re-evaluated its capital levels since receiving the Treasury Department's approval Oct. 28 for a $3.45 billion infusion from the Capital Purchase Program, and that it no longer needs to sell off assets.
Debra DeCourcy, a spokeswoman for Fifth Third, said it has not ruled out future asset sales, though "at this point, it's on the back burner."
Moreover, Mr. Kari said, the Treasury's rescue program "seems to be going a long way toward creating necessary confidence in the industry as a whole, and that's a benefit to Fifth Third, along with everyone else."
And Kevin T. Kabat, the company's chairman, president, and chief executive officer, said he wanted a CFO with diverse experience, and Mr. Kari fits that mold.
"We are delighted to have Ross join Fifth Third, given his experience, leadership capabilities and broad and diversified business background," Mr. Kabat said in a press release Wednesday announcing the hiring.
Before joining Safeco, Mr. Kari had been the chief operating officer of Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco from 2002 to June 2006.
Prior to that that he had worked at Wells for 18 years, beginning as a financial analyst and steadily rising through the ranks to become executive vice president and deputy chief financial officer in 1998.
He is currently a nonexecutive director of KKR Financial Holdings LLC of New York and the chairman of its audit committee.