Christian Meissner, head of global corporate and investment banking at Bank of America Corp., speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in New York, U.S., (Photographer: Scott Eells)

UBS in Talks With Meissner as Potential Successor to CEO Ermotti

(Bloomberg) -- UBS Group AG is in early talks with Bank of America Corp.’s ex-investment banking head Christian Meissner about joining as a potential successor to Sergio Ermotti, according to people with knowledge of the talks.

The discussions have focused on Meissner, 49, joining in a senior role that would put him in position to take over as chief executive officer, the people said, asking not to be identified as the matter is private. The bank is considering other executives and hasn’t yet made any decisions, they said.

UBS in Talks With Meissner as Potential Successor to CEO Ermotti

UBS is laying the groundwork to find a replacement for one of Europe’s longest-serving bank CEOs after high-profile departures in the past year or so, such as top dealmaker Andrea Orcel and wealth-management head Juerg Zeltner. Ermotti, who joined UBS in 2011 from UniCredit SpA after a career at Merrill Lynch, steered the Swiss lender away from investment banking toward wealth management after a government bailout in 2008.

UBS has been intensifying succession planning for Ermotti, with Chairman Axel Weber said to favor an outside candidate for the role, people familiar with the matter said last month. Ermotti, 58, recently told investors the company is working on a plan, according to the people. The bank is also said to be looking at succession for some on the board of directors, and is considering strengthening the executive board, the people said.

Born in Austria

Meissner left Bank of America last year amid a fierce debate internal debate as firm’s most senior leadership reassessed and reined in exposure to certain types of deals after getting burned on a large margin loan. The tensions, described at the time by people familiar with the situation, also fueled the departure of other dealmakers who’d grown frustrated and believed they could take greater risks and generate higher profits elsewhere. In a December interview, CEO Brian Moynihan said the bank had gotten “a little too careful,” and that it’s hiring to rebuild the ranks.

Born in Austria and educated at Princeton University, Meissner spent his early career at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., where he climbed the ranks of its equity capital markets business. Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. lured him away in 2003, where he helped oversee investment banking operations in Germany and eventually the broader region, including Europe and the Middle East. But his rise was derailed when the firm, dragged down by the U.S. housing market, collapsed in September of 2008 and set off a global financial crisis.

At a hastily called meeting within Lehman’s offices in London as the company sought bankruptcy protection, he bluntly delivered the bad news. “It’s over,” the New York Times quoted him as telling staff at the time.

After less than two years at Nomura Holdings Inc. he landed at Bank of America, assuming a post akin to his former role at Lehman and continuing his ascent in global finance.

Meissner’s name was among those floated over the past year when Deutsche Bank AG sought a new CEO. The German lender eventually awarded the job to an internal candidate, Christian Sewing.

‘Regular’ Planning

Meissner declined to comment. A spokesman for UBS declined to comment on individuals, and referred to an earlier statement in which it said that “succession planning has been and will continue to be part of our regular ongoing run-the-bank operation.”

“There are no changes to what the chairman and the CEO have previously communicated with regard to the planning, process and timing of any succession,” UBS said in the statement.

In an interview published this week, Weber told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper that he’d like to stay in his position until at least 2022, and he’s said recently that the bank has a strong talent bench. Asked about succession at the bank’s investor day in October, Ermotti said it was a question for the board, adding “as long as I have the energy and the passion for what I do and people believe that it’s okay, then I will do it.”

Martin Blessing and Tom Naratil, wealth management co-heads, had been seen as the internal front-runners to succeed Ermotti. A successor would most likely come from within, Ermotti told Switzerland’s Bilanz magazine in February. “Something probably would not have gone well if my successor came from outside,” he said at the time.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.