Boris Collardi: Fast and Furious

Boris Collardi

Boris Collardi, CEO Julius Baer

Boris Collardi, the boss of Julius Baer, surprised everybody by creating a new division and selecting a new board member – decisions that befit his style of management, which seems to be driven by opportunities and chance.

This is how the appointment of Yves Henri Bonzon as head of the new division Investment Management and member of the executive board at Julius Baer took place, according to an unconfirmed account: CEO Boris Collardi was studying the file about the possible purchase of BSI and realized that Bonzon was about to start as chief investment officer at the BTG Pactual unit.

Sensing the opportunity to snatch up one of Switzerland's most celebrated investment experts from the clutches of a competitor, Collardi approached Bonzon and made an offer he couldn't refuse: an own division and a seat on the executive board at one of the country's most distinguished banks.

Strike When Nobody Expects It

Julius Baer wouldn't confirm this account of what happened, but gives a hint that indirectly acknowledges the version presented: the hiring of Bonzon developed out of an opportunity. If an expert of this quality is available, you just have to pave the way to get him. And that's exactly how the Baer boss ticks: strike where and when nobody expects it.

Sharp tongued critics might argue that Collardi simply enlarged his group of acolytes, unnecessarily extending the bank's top management. And indeed, Bonzon will be the 13th member of the executive when he takes up his job on February 1st.

Collardi's Appetite for Talent

The size of Baer's top management is unusual and quite probably very expensive in its upkeep. Collardi doesn't seem to care much – as long as his maneuvers help him achieve his aim, which is creating a leading, independent private bank.

Further examples of Collardi's approach:

  • Pascal Gentinetta, former director at the Economiesuisse business lobby, probably wasn't hired due to his work experience at the group, but because he enjoys first-class connections to Switzerland's political powerbrokers in Bern.
  • Barend Fruithof, shortly after dropping out as head of Swiss corporate clients at Credit Suisse, was made member of the board and head of private banking in Switzerland. Fruithof has no experience in wealth management but is known as a first-class bank manager.
  • Bernhard Kobler had an extra-marital affair and had to step down as chief executive at Luzerner Kantonalbank. Collardi didn't care much and awarded a top job to the banker who has the best contacts to the rich in central Switzerland.

Breathtaking Speed

The boss of Julius Baer is fighting a «War of Talents»: when a top banker is available, he has to be hired and accommodated. Sensibilities of Baer managers who may have to give up power or position don't count.

The breathtaking speed of Collardi is also evidenced in how he treads the rumor mill. Collardi uses interviews carefully to nurture takeover speculation or dispense with cold water should it suit his intentions better. He announces his interest in buying a bank in Brazil and a fintech company in China, but shortly after announces the acquisition of Commerzbank Luxembourg and a financial services company in China.

U.S. Tax Dispute Remains an Open Sore

Collardi seems careful enough in building the bank according to his plan. But the 41-year old needs to retain the trust of his shareholders: the handling of the U.S. tax dispute hasn't been an example of careful handling. First the $350 million provision for the expected fine had to be propped up by a further $200 million, and now there is still no final agreement with the U.S. authorities.

The fast and furious manager at one of Zurich's finest institutes is a talented salesman, not least of the growth story of Julius Baer. Following the success of the Merrill Lynch takeover, shareholders now await his next big move.

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