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First Union chief anoints an heir apparent

First Union Corp. named John Georgius as its president Friday, putting the longtime bank executive in line to succeed chairman Ed Crutchfield as head of the nation's sixth-largest bank.

Charlotte, N.C.-based First Union promoted Georgius, 53, from vice chairman, a position he has held since January 1996. He will oversee consumer and corporate banking, the bank's northeast region and First Union's money management division.

"John's combination of vision and a get-it-done mentality is rare," Crutchfield said in a statement.

Crutchfield, 56, has not announced any plans for retirement. While anointing Georgius, the move appears to have ended Byron Hodnett's chances of some day running the bank. Hodnett, First Union Florida's chief executive, had been considered by some as a possible heir to Crutchfield.

Georgius' recognition of the changes in retail banking and consumer behavior made him a good fit, Crutchfield said. The president's position became open when Anthony Terracciano announced his retirement Oct. 6. Terracciano was formerly chairman of First Fidelity Bancorp, which was purchased by First Union in 1996. Terracciano retires Dec. 31.

In recent years, Georgius oversaw the redesign of First Union's commercial and consumer banking operations. Crutchfield praised Georgius' efforts in the bank's slate of recent mergers that have helped the bank grow.

First Union faces new challenges in the wake of the big moves of its hometown competitor, NationsBank Corp., which is in the process of merging with Barnett Banks Inc. of Jacksonville.

Analysts have cheered First Union's financial performance, but Crutchfield has stated the need for First Union to develop a stronger national identity. NationsBank, through mergers, has expanded into the Midwest and is said to be looking at California banks to buy in its strategy to become a household banking name.

First Union banks are in 12 eastern states, with Florida being the biggest in terms of deposits. First Union remains the No. 2 bank in Florida, widely regarded as the best banking growth market in the country.

The move ends speculation that Hodnett was a possibility to succeed Crutchfield. Hodnett, a past president of the Florida Bankers Association, has been a figure in Florida banking for years.

Hodnett, 52, was promoted to his Florida position Oct. 3 from the position of president. He was replaced as president by David Carroll, 40, who previously ran First Union's Georgia operations.

Georgius' ascension didn't surprise analysts.

"He's a senior guy who's been there _ it's a logical choice," said Lawrence Cohn, bank analyst at Ryan, Beck & Co. in New Jersey. "It's a good bank that's been well-managed, and I imagine they made this move with Tony announcing his stepping aside."

First Union shares closed up 93} cents to $49.06\.

_ Information from Times wires was used in this report.


New title: president, First Union Corp.

Previous position: vice chairman

Age: 53

Joined First Union: 1975

Previous positions: vice chairman and chief executive officer, First Union Bank of North Carolina. Headed First Union's trust division. Executive vice president, general banking group.

Education: B.A. in accounting, Georgia State University