Credit Suisse snags Prudential chief for top seat

10th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

In a surprise move, Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse announced Tuesday its longtime chief Brady Dougan will step down and pass the torch to the current head of British insurer Prudential, Tidjane Thiam.

Credit Suisse hailed Thiam, a former Ivory Coast government minister who has headed Prudential since 2009 and oversaw the firm's rapid expansion into Asia, as "a strong and distinguished leader with an impressive track record."

Dougan, who is one of few top executives in the banking sector to have weathered the storm of the global financial crisis, will meanwhile stay on until the end of June "to ensure a flawless transition to Tidjane Thiam", Credit Suisse said in a statement.

During his eight-year term at the helm, the 55-year-old US national steered Credit Suisse not only through the financial crisis but also through a tax evasion probe by the US Justice Department that eventually saw Switzerland's second largest bank slapped with a $2.8 billion fine.

Dougan, who joined Credit Suisse a quarter century ago, has "significantly and successfully shaped our company," Credit Suisse chairman Urs Rohner said in the statement.

He praised the outgoing chief for keeping "our bank on track in recent years despite a complex environment and considerable headwinds in the global financial services industry."

- 'Half a surprise' -

Investors appeared pleased with the shift, sending the bank's share price soaring 8.32 percent to 25.13 Swiss francs a piece in late afternoon trading, as the Swiss stock exchange's main SMI index remained flat.

"They are probably rejoicing in the departure of Brady Dougan rather than the identity of the new CEO," said IG Bank analyst Laurent Bakhtiari, who described Dougan's departure as "only half of a surprise".

Dougan has faced a rising tide of criticism in recent years for not reforming Credit Suisse fast enough and especially after the bank was slapped with its staggering US fine last year.

"The real surprise is the identity of the new CEO," Bakhtiari said in a note.

Thiam, a 52-year-old dual French-Ivory Coast national, has no banking experience, and the analyst said his career path was "absolutely not linear".

But Rohner highlighted Thiam's "extensive international experience, including in wealth and asset management and in the successful development of new markets," which he insisted would provide "a firm foundation for leading Credit Suisse".

Thiam, who speaks fluent French, English and German, meanwhile highlighted Prudential's rapid expansion into Asia -- a region Credit Suisse is eager to conquer -- on his watch.

"Prudential in Asia has more than doubled in size and profitability since 2009 and is a clear leader in insurance in the world's most populous and dynamic region," he said in a statement issued by the insurer.

Under his leadership, however, the group failed in its $35.5 billion takeover bid for AIA -- the Asian arm of US insurance giant AIG -- in early 2010.

While the sudden shift at the top may have taken observers by surprise, it was no rash decision.

Credit Suisse said Thiam had been chosen after a "thorough evaluation process", during which he outshone a number of both internal and external candidates.

Thiam was born in Ivory Coast but grew up in France, where he attended some of the country's most prestigious schools, including Ecole Polytechnique, before joining the McKinsey consulting firm.

He worked for the Ivorian government, serving for a time as the country's minister of planning and development.

He also worked for the Aviva insurance company before joining Prudential in 2008 as chief financial officer, becoming chief executive the following year.

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© 2015 AFP

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