Credit Suisse Wasn't Tidjane Thiam's First Choice

The match between Credit Suisse and Tidjane Thiam wasn't only the result of well established contacts. Thiam joined the Swiss banking giant also because negotiations with other institutions hadn't led to an agreement.

The new strategy of Switzerland's second-biggest bank is the talk of the industry. Tidjane Thiam (picture) on October 21 will undoubtedly aim to leave his mark, because his star won't ever shine as brightly as today.

Based on the bits of information leaked so far, Credit Suisse will announce a substantial increase of capital, a reorganization in regions as well as job cuts. Thiam may also aim to prepare the ground for a big takeover. Swiss banking will thus see a new chapter written.

His Other Options

Thiam's position of strength as one of Switzerland's leading bankers is the more remarkable as his career path might have taken an entirely different turn, had it been up to him, research by showed.

At the March press conference, presenting himself to the media, Thiam spoke of his long established contacts to Credit Suisse. As a former consultant at McKinsey and later as chief executive of Prudential, Thiam was regularly dealing with representatives of the Swiss banking giant.

Thiam made a point of mentioning his friendship with Brady Dougan, predecessor at the helm of CS.

French Choice

So far so good. Research by among the headhunters in London revealed that Thiam had been on the market for a new job for quite a while last year. Despite his respectable performance at Prudential, he wanted to leave, following disagreements with Chairman Paul Manduca, a heavyweight in the industry. A spokesman for Credit Suisse today denied that there had been a disagreement between Thiam and Manduca.

It was an open secret in London that the double citizen of Ivory Coast and France would have preferred to join a French company. His hopes were dashed.

Even with French insurer Axa there were no concrete negotiations, despite the fact that Thiam is close to founder and previous CEO Claude Bébéar. Bébéar was present at the award ceremony of the Honorary Legion to Thiam.

Switch of Industry

Thiam was ready to switch industry under certain conditions. He was in talks to take on a membership of the board of Diageo, having been approached by Diageo Chairman Franz B. Humer.

The then CEO of Prudential might even have landed a board membership at Novartis, the Swiss drug giant. Thiam was contacted by Jörg Reinhardt, but is said to have declined the option.

In most of these negotiations the role of Thiam, 53, remained unclear. He would have seemed a tad too young as member of the board, yet there was no position in the top management available at other companies.

Ideal Successor

It all changed, when Credit Suisse came into play. Having been a successful CEO during the financial crisis, Brady Dougan turned into a red rag for many shareholders in the past year.

After the bank solved its tax conflict with the U.S. in the summer of 2014, it was free to approach the succession of Brady – and Thiam was ripe for a change.

The rest is know: Urs Rohner proudly presented Thiam in early March 2015 as Dougan's ideal successor. The importance of the nomination was underlined by the presence of Rainer E. Gut, the honorary chairman of CS, welcoming the new man at the helm.

The Expert From Singapore

One of the key movers however was Kai S. Nargolwala. The citizen of Singapore, 65, in 2008 switched to Credit Suisse from Standard Chartered, taking leading positions on the executive of the Swiss bank. He repeatedly proved his worth thanks to his first-class relations to the city state.

The financial expert has kept some other important positions, notably a membership on the board of Prudential. An important matchmaker for the switch of Thiam was thereby a given.


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