Robinson steps down at American Express

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NEW YORK - James Robinson said yesterday he will step down as chief executive of American Express, the travel and financial services group, on 1 February, writes Larry Black.

He managed, however, to have his hand-picked successor, Harvey Golub, the company's president, named for the post, despite stiff opposition from some senior company directors.

Mr Robinson, 57, will remain Amex's chairman indefinitely. In an unexpected turn of events, he was also named chief executive of Shearson Lehman, Amex's troubled US brokerage subsidiary. He will replace Howard Clark Jr, the son of his predecessor and one of his most vocal opponents, Howard Clark Sr.

After the close of trading yesterday, the company again reported sharply lower profits for its fourth quarter, led by a dollars 166m ( pounds 111m) loss at Shearson. The company has also injected another dollars 175m of capital into Shearson.

Last September, several outside directors, encouraged by Mr Clark, pressed Mr Robinson to begin the process of finding a successor. But they are said to be unhappy with his nomination of Mr Golub, 53, a former McKinsey consultant who until recently led Amex's only consistently profitable subsidiary, IDS Financial Services, a marketer of unit trusts.

But Amex said yesterday that Mr Golub's election was 'unanimous and enthusiastic.'

Amex's profit for the fourth quarter, dollars 82m or 15 cents a share, was well below last year's dollars 237m, and less than a third of the average prediction. For the year, Amex made dollars 461m or 88 cents a share, compared with dollars 789m or 1.59 a share in 1991. The share price rose briefly on first news of the changes, but ended up losing 1/2 to 25 1/8 .