Chase Manhattan Corp. said today that Thomas Labrecque will become president of the company and its chief subsidiary, Chase Manhattan Bank, next April when Chairman David Rockefeller retires and the current president, Willard C. Butcher, succeeds Rockefeller.

Labrecque, 41, will be vice chairman of the bank and chief operating officer in the meantime.He had been executive vice president.

It was the second major appointment in the banking industry in as many days. Tuesday, the ailing First National Bank of Chicago tapped another Chase executive vice president, Barry F. Sullivan, to be its chairman.

Sullivan and Labrecque both had been considered contenders for the number two job at Chase, the nation's third-largest bank. But a Chase spokesman said today that Labrecque had been selected several weeks ago before Sullivan announced he was leaving for Chicago. The spokesman said the bank planned the announcement for mid-July but moved it up after Sullivan left.

Unlike Sullivan -- who will take over a major bank plagued by bad loans, large trading losses and a demoralized executive corps -- Labrecque will inherit a bank that turned itself around after a difficult time with loan and bond losses during the middle 1970s.

Chase, along with its giant New York City rival, Citibank, was placed on a special watch list maintained by federal regulators during 1976. But Rockefeller and Butcher have exercised the bank's bad credits and have increased profits steadily in recent years. Chase executives were joyous when the smaller bank recorded first-quarter profits bigger than Citibank's.

Labrecque, who will be among the youngest top officers of a major U.S. bank, played a key role in guiding Chase through its problems in recent years. After Chase had big losses in its bond department in 1974, Labrecque was put in charge to "shape it up," according to a bank official. He also was the prime bank official dealing with New York City during that city's brush with bankruptcy in 1975.

Observers said that one of the reasons Sullivan abandoned Chase was that Butcher's relatively young age -- 53 -- closes the route to the top for more than a decade. But both Labrecque and Butcher dismissed Butcher's age as a factor in the appointment.

Butcher called Labrecque a "talented, outstanding banker. He's a tough, hands-on manager. I'm a great believer in performance and Tom has performed extremely well."

Labrecque has been with Chase 16 years. Sullivan had been with the bank 23 years before resigning last Friday to head the nation's ninth largest bank. 2

While Chase and First Chicago were in similar straits during the aftermath of the 1974-75 recession, First Chicago's chairman, A. Robert Abboud, never was able to turn the bank around, while Rockefeller and Butcher rescusitated Chase. Furthermore, Abboud's abrasive style drove many of his best managers to other financial institutions. One of Sullivan's chief responsibilities at First Chicago will be executive recruitment, a problem Labrecque is unlikely to face at Chase.