Mustier Discusses Future With UniCredit Amid HSBC’s CEO Hunt

(Bloomberg) -- UniCredit SpA boss Jean Pierre Mustier is in talks about his future at the Italian bank after he emerged as a candidate for the top job at HSBC Holdings Plc, according to people familiar with the matter.

A decision on his future could be taken as early as the next few hours. The talks are ongoing, though the move to HSBC could still fall apart, the people said, requesting anonymity because the discussions are private.

Mustier is the main external contender for the chief executive officer role at HSBC, Bloomberg News reported Thursday. The Frenchman, 59, would replace Noel Quinn, a lifer at HSBC and its predecessor firms, who had been interim CEO for six months and the only internal candidate under consideration.

“The process is ongoing,” HSBC said in a statement. “We expect to announce the outcome within the 6-12 month timescale originally outlined.”

Representatives for UniCredit declined to comment.

UniCredit’s shares have tumbled since Bloomberg reported Mustier’s candidacy. The 3.9% drop in Milan on Friday brought the two-day slide to 6.7%. The CEO has run Italy’s UniCredit for almost four years, and is credited with turning around its fortunes.

Mustier could become the first outsider to become CEO at 155-year-old HSBC, whose corporate culture was historically typified by long executive tenures and short-lived stays for senior hires brought in to shake things up.

It’s unclear whether Mustier would modify the strategy he will inherit from Quinn, who announced plans to cut 35,000 staff in a restructuring that sent the stock tumbling when it was announced this week. HSBC intends to slash costs and staff at underperforming units in the U.S. and Asia, while doubling down on Asia -- a more profitable region, but one that is roiled with geopolitical tensions and the outbreak of the coronavirus.

While the bulk of his career has been spent at a major French lender and an Italian one, Mustier has held senior banking roles in London before. He spent a decade in the British capital for Societe Generale SA and once ran its corporate and investment bank.

Mustier also has experience in Asia, where HSBC makes about half its revenue and wants to generate even more. At SocGen, Mustier spent time as an investment banker in Hong Kong and Tokyo as part of a 22-year career.

Mustier has cleaned up UniCredit’s balance sheet and cut about 14,000 jobs. The Italian bank’s shares rose more than 30% last year, outpacing most of its European peers. That success has led to his name being in the mix for other top European banking jobs: Deutsche Bank AG considered Mustier as a replacement for John Cryan in 2018 -- a post that eventually went to Christian Sewing.

HSBC is in its third strategic overhaul in a decade and has battled a series of crises since Mark Tucker became the bank’s first outside chairman. Shares of HSBC, Europe’s biggest financial company by market value, have declined since the start of the last decade. In contrast, JPMorgan Chase & Co. has more than tripled.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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