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Credit Suisse turns to first Swiss-born CEO in decades to steady the ship

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Thomas Gottstein is the new Credit Suisse boss. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Thomas Gottstein is the new Credit Suisse boss. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

REUTERS

Thomas Gottstein is the new Credit Suisse boss. Photo: Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Credit Suisse is turning to the first Swiss-born chief executive in almost two decades to restore calm in a boardroom shaken by infighting and personal animosities.

Thomas Gottstein, who was named on Friday to succeed Tidjane Thiam at the helm of the lender, is as Swiss an executive as they come: a 20-year veteran of the bank, with degrees in business administration and accounting from the University of Zurich. He rose through the ranks in a career path that tracked the evolution of Credit Suisse from an investment bank to a firm more focused on wealth management.

But his biggest achievement until now was overseeing one of the crown jewels of the lender, the unit known as Swiss Universal Bank. A sort of miniature Credit Suisse focused on the domestic market, it is the biggest contributor to pre-tax profit and includes a private banking arm, as well as investment banking. Initially slated for a partial spin-off to help raise capital, the lender reversed course in 2017 and kept the business.

Now Credit Suisse is betting Gottstein, 55, can take his experience running a steady domestic operation on to a global stage. In turning to a homegrown executive who has limited experience abroad, but who is well-connected with the elites at home, the firm is joining the likes of Deutsche Bank in breaking with a series of high-profile international CEOs that have, at best, brought mixed results over the past decades.

"Gottstein is very Swiss, it's a big contrast," said Andreas Venditti, an analyst at Vontobel. Still, he "has a background in investment banking, he doesn't know only Switzerland. I wouldn't say that this is a retreat from a global ambition".

Gottstein is taking over after Thiam was ousted in the wake of a tabloid scandal that unnerved the Swiss establishment.

The drama started when it emerged that top management hired detectives to follow former executive Iqbal Khan, who was joining rival UBS Group.

Embarrassing disclosures followed, including accounts of a personal feud and the suicide of a contractor. While Thiam, 57, was cleared in an internal probe and a close lieutenant was blamed, the bank has struggled to move beyond the scandal. Swiss regulators have launched their own inquiry, raising questions about the culture at the top of the firm.

Like Credit Suisse chairman Urs Rohner, Gottstein is a member of the Swiss establishment, sitting on various boards including at regulator Finma, at the Swiss stock exchange and the Zurich Opera House.

Bloomberg

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