Egon Zehnder has a tough mandate. Following the abrupt departure of Ossie Gruebel, the headhunter is seeking a permanent CEO for UBS. The ideal candidate would combine hands-on experience and risk management skills with private banking charm and the ability to inspire the Swiss lender’s demoralised troops. Given UBS’s preference for a Swiss national, however, interim chief Sergio Ermotti has few credible challengers.
A long list shouldn’t be hard to draw up. Within UBS, chief operating officer Ulrich Koerner, private bank boss Juerg Zeltner, and David Sidwell, the former Morgan Stanley CFO who’s investigating the bank’s rogue trading loss, are contenders. Departing Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann and Hugo Baenziger, the German lender’s risk chief – both Swiss nationals – should expect a call, as should Boris Collardi, head of Julius Baer, and Bill Winters, the former JPMorgan investment bank co-head. Longer shots include outgoing Morgan Stanley chairman John Mack, Royal Bank of Scotland CEO Stephen Hester, and former Goldman presidents John Thornton and John Thain.
Among these, Ackermann, Mack, Thornton and Thain probably lead in experience – an important consideration given that Axel Weber, the former Bundesbank president who will become UBS’s chairman, lacks a commercial background. But Thornton hasn’t held an executive role for eight years, while Thain is rebuilding his reputation following a turbulent spell at Merrill Lynch. Mack, meanwhile, will be 67 when he leaves Morgan Stanley later this year.
Winters, Baenziger and Sidwell score highly on risk management, while Koerner is also a safe operator. That’s important given the need to tighten trading controls. Zeltner and Collardi, meanwhile, are the best schmoozers, a skill that will become even more valuable as the investment bank shrinks. When it comes to leadership, Ackermann, Mack, Thain, Hester and Collardi have all served as CEOs, while Ermotti narrowly missed the top job at UniCredit.
UBS may conclude that other factors trump nationality – after all, Credit Suisse CEO Brady Dougan is American. But, if it insists on a Swiss CEO, the field of credible candidates narrows. An Ackermann-Weber tandem, once mooted for Deutsche, is a tantalising prospect, but would require Ackermann to abandon his controversial proposed move to Deutsche’s chairmanship. Ermotti has much to prove. But the prize seems his to lose.