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Suisse Chartered

20 July 2015 By Rob Cox

Did the recruiters at Standard Chartered and Credit Suisse get their dossiers mixed up?

Bill Winters is beginning his tenure as the new boss of the London-based emerging market lender at around the same time that Tidjane Thiam takes charge of the Swiss bank. Both are capable financial executives, but their experiences seem uncannily to better suit the other’s job. That they’ve wound up where they did, rather than where their resumes would suggest they should have, may say more about where the institutions they lead are headed.

Winters, who on July 19 reshaped StanChart’s management structure so that the heads of its major business units now report to him directly rather than to deputy Mike Rees, made his career leading JPMorgan’s investment bank in London. After parting company with Jamie Dimon, the American founded an alternative asset manager where he oversaw funds for financier Jacob Rothschild and Richemont boss Johann Rupert. This would appear to eminently qualify him to run Credit Suisse. Its investment bank – stronger in the United States than elsewhere – competes directly with JPMorgan. And its private bank needs to more aggressively poach the very rich folks that Renshaw Bay, the firm he founded, calls customers.

Instead, $48 billion Credit Suisse got an insurance executive, French-educated Ivorian Thiam. True, he showed an affinity for deals as chief executive of Prudential, the UK insurer: an aborted attempt to snatch American International Group’s Asian operations was particularly bold. Private banking arguably should be run more like insurance than investment banking or trading.

Similar thinking prevailed when Barclays named a retail banker to the helm three years ago. But the British lender let Antony Jenkins go on July 8 partly because it needs someone capable of making an investment bank hum.

Though Credit Suisse may not be pre-eminent in Asia, Thiam’s experience there could help rectify that. Of course, that’s the region where $39 billion StanChart is strongest. And Africa, where Thiam was born, is one of StanChart’s prime growth areas. By contrast, Winters’ orientation has been to developed markets – places his bank shows zero interest in pursuing.

So did each bank get the wrong guy? Probably not. The truth is that both companies are sprawling, do complicated things and need to keep costs under control. Past experience matters less than their leaders’ ability to motivate, delegate, synthesize and communicate.

On these counts, both have the requisite skills to qualify for either job. Whether they can do it well enough is the story yet to be told.

 

 

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