P. M. BRIEFING : Amex President Louis Gerstner Jr. Named RJR Nabisco’s Top Officer

<i> From Times wire services </i>

RJR Nabisco Inc., the tobacco and food products giant that recently went private in a $24.7-billion buyout, said today that American Express Co. President Louis Gerstner Jr. will be its new chairman, president and chief executive officer.

Gerstner, 47, heads up Amex’s Travel Related Services Co. unit, which manages the company’s lucrative charge card and travelers’ check businesses. He will take office at RJR on April 3, replacing acting Chairman and Chief Executive J. Paul Sticht.

RJR’s top post became vacant when Chief Executive F. Ross Johnson resigned after failing to win a record bidding war for the Atlanta-based company, maker of Winston, Salem and Camel cigarettes, as well as Oreos, Shredded Wheat and Fig Newtons.

Johnson, who made an initial bid for RJR last October, was ultimately defeated by New York leveraged buyout specialists Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., which conducted the search for his replacement. Gerstner’s choice surprised some industry leaders--the executive has never worked in the tobacco or food business. But the Harvard Business School graduate is well-known for his strong marketing and managing skills. Amex’s travel unit, considered a blue-ribbon outfit in the financial services industry, had record profits of $183.5 million in the fourth quarter.