Credit Suisse has a poor track record of hiring and firing leaders

Didn’t last a year.
Didn’t last a year.
Image: Reuters/Stefan Wermuth
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Credit Suisse’s chairman Antonio Horta-Osório resigned with immediate effect today (Jan. 17) for breaking covid quarantine rules twice last year—once to attend the Wimbledon final, and once when flying in and out of Switzerland. He will be succeeded by Axel Lehmann.

“I regret that a number of my personal actions have led to difficulties for the bank and compromised my ability to represent the bank internally and externally,” Horta-Osório said. “I therefore believe that my resignation is in the interest of the bank and its stakeholders at this crucial time.”

Horta-Osório was appointed last April to stop the rot at the global investment bank. The executive, who came to Credit Suisse after spending a decade at Lloyds, was “the right mix of diplomacy and toughness” to bring stability to a faltering firm that had ousted one of the few Black CEOs in the business, Tidjane Thiam, following racism claims and a spying scandal.

Instead, Horta-Osório is departing within nine months, leaving the company “with a lack of strong characters at the top,” says Citigroup analyst Andrew Coombs. “Leadership questions will likely be raised.”

Credit Suisse’s management churn continues

Thiam and Horta-Osório are not the only executives to have met abrupt ends at Credit Suisse. 

Last April, investment bank head Brian Chin and chief risk and compliance officer Lara Warner left after the meltdown of US-based hedge fund Archegos Capital Management, to which Credit Suisse was left badly exposed. Eight months later, in December 2021, the firm fired several managers over the Greensill scandal.

In protecting its reputation, Credit Suisse’s first sacrifice is talent. At times, it is warranted. In the case of Chin, for instance, the firing came after a series of slip-ups that cost the firm billions of dollars. But with Thiam, there were allegations of personal agendas, and even racism.

In Horta-Osório’s case, some suggest a dismissal may have been a step too far. Although it’s important to hold public figures accountable—tennis star Novak Djokovic and UK prime minister Boris Johnson are currently facing the music—the Portuguese banker’s allies have said the bank could have censured him instead of forcing him out just as he’s beginning to fix its culture.

What happens to Credit Suisse now?

Credit Suisse was looking for a fresh start in 2022. It reshuffled significant parts of its management team last month, and starting Jan. 1, the group reorganized into four business divisions—wealth management, investment bank, Swiss bank, and asset management—and four geographic regions—EMEA, Americas, Switzerland and Asia-Pacific.

“While Horta-Osorio was responsible for the new strategy, his short tenure means that the revamp is likely to only be in the nascent stage,” Justin Tang, head of Asian research at investment firm United First Partners, told BBC News. “The irony of it is that Horta was hired to fix the reputational damage to Credit Suisse, and revamp its risk taking culture in the bank.”