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Morning Coffee: Alpha males battle for control of Credit Suisse; Deutsche Bank is flogging businesses to Citi

The position of “potential future CEO” at a Swiss bank is not always a comfortable one, as Juerg Zeltner, Andrea Orcel, Hans-Ulrich Meister or Walter Berchtold might tell you.  On the one hand, you’re in the prime position to get promoted to the top job.  On the other hand, being considered a candidate for your boss’s job isn’t a great career move. -  He is, after all, your boss.

Iqbal Khan is the latest banker to follow this trajectory, leaving Credit Suisse yesterday with no clue as to his next role.  In the goodbye press release, Tidjane Thiam thanked him for the excellent results in CS’ international wealth management division (which he’d headed) and wished him well, but behind the scenes, according to well-placed insiders talking to, it seems like things may have been a little more combative.

The story appears to be a classic tale of an ambitious 43-year old’s realisation that his boss is only 56 years old, has been named Euromoney Banker of the Year and is highly unlikely to retire any time soon since he’s just gone through a gruelling three year restructuring program and wants to enjoy its fruits.  The “Prince Charles problem” is potentially acute; it’s not much use being the heir apparent if you’re likely to grow old while you wait to inherit the throne.  And so Mr Khan asked for a full and frank discussion with TT on the subject of, ‘Where do you see my career going in five years’ time?’

When this was reported on at the time, it was noted that this was a calculated risk, possibly aiming to head off competition for the top job from Laura Warner.  Mr Khan was careful not to say anything in public, but even so, Tidjane Thiam apparently didn’t take kindly to the conversation.  The gist of his reply appears to be that the CEO job was not available and not likely to become so, and that consequently the career ladder at CS was blocked.

The aftermath of a chat like that always had the potential for further conflict.  It’s disruptive to the whole management structure when someone is quite so explicitly ambitious, particularly if they’re explicitly rebuffed.  And Mr Khan had started being linked in public to other potential CEO jobs, most frequently that of Julius Baer.  If Tidjane Thiam was thinking about the prospect of having Credit Suisse’s most important division run for at least five years by an executive with one eye on the exit door and the other on his own job, it’s easy to see how the relationship could have deteriorated fast.  Both men have a reputation for being driven, alpha-type personalities, which is not always conducive to a diplomatic solution.

So now, Iqbal Khan has a bit of time to catch up on some box sets while he considers the several offers that have apparently already come in from international banks.  He might not feel like watching The Wire, though, as the catchphrase might feel a little too close to home – “if you come at the king, you better not miss”.

Elsewhere in the world of finance drama, the likely fate of Deutsche Bank’s equities business is now out in the street, and the company is beginning to realise that if it is going to lose all its best people to rival banks (like the equity strategy team that just went to Bank of America), it might as well try to get some profit for the company out of their franchise value and goodwill.

So the bank is in talks with Citigroup to sell its prime brokerage unit (still a top ten franchise, and with a recent history much higher before the strategy cloud began to overhang).  Citigroup’s global head of equities, Murray Roos is an ex- Deutsche employee who will be aware of the potential opportunity to raise Citi’s own profile in prime services.  There’s also some talks going on with BNP Paribas, which might relate to some corporate derivatives positions that Deutsche wants to get rid of, and could involve moving trading staff as well.

In all likelihood, this is good news for the employees, who won’t get the opportunity to shop around for the best personal payday, but who also won’t be dumped into a weak labour market alongside 20,000 of their colleagues.  It’s good to see a company trying to do right by its people even as it shrinks the business.


SocGen’s chairman thinks the bank could have been a little more zealous in cutting its trading staff. (Financial Times)

In the film Wall Street, Bud Fox got inside tips by asking ground staff where an industrialist’s private jet was flying to.  More recently, hedge funds got an early warning on the Occidental/Anadarko takeover when an alternative-data firm tracked a corporate jet to Omaha (for a meeting with Warren Buffet).  Private jet owners are apparently getting sick of this sort of thing and lobbying the aviation regulations to make their flight data more private (Bloomberg)

A long interview with Lee Buchheit, the sovereign debt restructuring lawyer, including the story of how he wisely skipped breakfast and so was able to watch all his colleagues and competitors vomiting as a flight into Iraq was forced into evasive action (FT Alphaville)

Proving that it really was about the principle rather than the deferred comp, Andrea Orcel may be set to wave goodbye to all his residual UBS bonuses, by starting up his own boutique advisory firm, in direct competition with them. (Bloomberg)

After spending time in prison for securities fraud, former hedge fund analyst Chip Skowron finds out that his neighbours in Greenwich, Connecticut, who all still work in the investment industry, unaccountably don’t want to be his friends any more (Vanity Fair)

Jefferies is still hiring bankers – internationally to beef up their non-US franchise, and in the currently hot segment of mid-market coverage. Total net hiring this year could grow headcount as much as 10% (Bloomberg)

How to avoid communicating your stress to colleagues and making them stressed too (Harvard Business Review)

Family offices are now big and experienced enough to put together deals for themselves, potentially making investment bankers obsolete. (Bloomberg)

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AUTHORDaniel Davies Insider Comment

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