Ulrich Körner, a discreet banker reputed to be a technocrat more than a ship’s captain, takes the helm of Credit Suisse on Monday with the heavy task of redressing the second bank in the country shaken by repeated scandals.
His first mission as CEO will be to conduct a new strategic review to try once again to find a way to put the bank back in working order. His predecessor Thomas Gottstein, who resigned on Wednesday, led the banking group through turmoil for two and a half years but failed to emerge from the storm.
Axel Lehmann, the new president of Credit Suisse, who rose as the new managing director through the ranks of arch-rival UBS, highlighted Ulrich Körner’s “in-depth” knowledge of the sector at a “pivotal moment” when the bank must “accelerate” its transformation.
He is “an experienced leader”, “with excellent judgment”, who “has demonstrated to the board of directors that he understands the urgency of the task and the need to rebuild trust”, explained Mr. Lehmann to the press.
Since March 2021, Credit Suisse has been in the headlines, shaken by the bankruptcy of the financial company Greensill, by the implosion of the American fund Archegos, by penalties for its loans in Mozambique and by the resounding resignation of its former president. More recently, a conviction was added in Switzerland in a money laundering case concerning a Bulgarian cocaine network.
Faced with the scale of the task awaiting him, is Mr. Körner the man for the job, wondered the daily Tages-Anzeiger.
“He is probably not a managing director in the traditional sense. But in the current situation, what Credit Suisse needs is not necessarily a visionary but someone with a practical approach, who will know how to restructure”explains to AFP Andreas Venditti, analyst at Vontobel.
“Also, he’s almost 60, so it’s probably his last big job.”he adds, which means he can concentrate on implementing a restructuring “without worrying about what comes next”as a mid-career boss would.
This German-Swiss national has distinguished himself by his ability to carry out restructuring. As head of operations at UBS, he had notably transformed the central functions at headquarters “like a machine”, notes the Tages-Anzeiger.
Doctor in economics, Ulrich Körner began his career with the consulting firm McKinsey and he already knows the bank well, noted for his part the Zurich daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ).
Returning to Credit Suisse last year to turn around asset management after the Greensill affair, he had already worked there for eleven years until 2009. He had notably directed activities for the Swiss market.
Little known outside of Zurich financial circles, in 2007 he was one of the potential successors of the German Oswald Grübel to lead the bank, recalls the major Zurich daily. As he was not selected, he left for UBS.
Doubt hangs over his qualities in terms of human relations, however, notes the Tages-Anzeiger. “Körner is a technocrat, not someone who motivates people,” said an inside source to the daily, who preferred to remain anonymous.
“Körner is considered a person of great intelligence”, but who can appear “brutal” or “arrogant”, according to his collaborators, reports the daily NZZ. But this first impression can “dissipate quickly” and give way to someone “engaging”, he specifies.
Contacted by AFP, the Ethos foundation, which represents pension funds among others, hopes for its part that Mr. Körner, alongside Axel Lehmann, “will finally manage to put the bank back on the right track” and to ” restore the confidence” of investors and employees.
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