UniCredit SpA, Italy’s biggest bank, named Deputy Chief Executive Officer Federico Ghizzoni as CEO nine days after his predecessor Alessandro Profumo quit under pressure from investors.
The 54-year-old Ghizzoni, who runs the Milan-based bank’s central and eastern Europe division, was the unanimous choice of the directors, Chairman Dieter Rampl said in a statement following a board meeting in Warsaw today.
With Ghizzoni’s appointment UniCredit is seeking to end the infighting that led to the departure of Profumo, who clashed with the Italian banking foundations that own 11 percent of the company. Ghizzoni, a 30-year veteran of the bank, began as a customer relations manager at a branch in his home city of Piacenza, in northern Italy, and went on to run foreign operations from London to Istanbul.
“It’s a good choice, a compromise solution that puts together the banking foundations and the non-Italian side of the bank,” said Edoardo Liuni, an analyst at IlNuovoMercato.it in Rome. “His years of experience managing local branches matches the foundations’ needs, while his focus on eastern Europe and Austria makes him a good point of contact for the non-Italian constituency.”
Ghizzoni became a deputy CEO in August, and beat out 45-year-old Roberto Nicastro, another deputy CEO, for the top job. The bank said it plans to study the best “leadership model for the group and a proper allocation of functions,” adding to speculation it will appoint a general manager to bring its governance into line with Italy’s second- and third-largest banks.
The company will hold to its strategy, Ghizzoni told reporters in Warsaw. “UniCredit is an international group with a local presence and we intend to grow organically in Europe,” he said.
Ghizzoni and the three other deputy CEOs have been dubbed “Profumo boys” by the Italian media because the former chief executive promoted all four through the ranks.
In the 1990s, Ghizzoni served as deputy general manager of the London office and later ran the Singapore office. He was chosen to head UniCredit’s Polish unit, Warsaw-based Bank Pekao SA, in 2000, and in 2003 was put in charge of the joint-venture that controls Turkey’s biggest bank, Yapi Kredi SA.
Not ‘High Profile’
Married with two children and a collector of fountain pens, Ghizzoni is a graduate of Parma University, where he earned a law degree. Like Profumo, he is a fan of the Inter Milan soccer team and he joined his former boss in Madrid to watch the May 22 Champions League final won by the Italian club.
“He seems to be a solid manager, but I don’t think he has Profumo’s high profile,” said Fabrizio Spagna, the CEO of Axia Financial Research in Padua, Italy. “It’s hard to think of someone who does.”
Profumo, 53, became one of Italy’s most prominent bankers by seizing on the opening of European markets brought by the introduction of the euro to expand at home and abroad. He turned the regional bank Credito Italiano SpA he took over in 1997 into UniCredit, the sixth-biggest bank in the euro region with 954.6 billion euros ($1.3 trillion) of assets at the end of June.
Profumo’s expansion through more than $65 billion of purchases built UniCredit into Italy’s most European bank, with more than half its revenue generated outside the country.
Takeovers left UniCredit short of funds when confidence in banks collapsed in 2008 and credit became scarce, forcing Profumo to turn to investors for cash twice in 18 months. The tension with the banking foundations increased after one of the two Libyan investors raised its holdings, ultimately forcing Profumo to quit at a Sept. 21 board meeting.
Ghizzoni’s appointment may calm foundations. “His constant and close interaction with policymakers, regulators, internal organizations and market participants makes him ideally suited for managing UniCredit’s relations with all key shareholders,” said Rampl, 63, in the statement. He directed the CEO search.
Italy’s banking foundations, regional institutions that oversee 49 billion euros of assets, use money generated by their holdings in lenders to fund philanthropic programs at schools and museums. They were formed two decades ago when the charitable arms of Italy’s savings banks were split from lending operations to allow for the industry’s privatization.
Some investors said Profumo should have informed them about the Libyans intentions, while the Northern League, a regional party that is part of Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition, expressed concern that UniCredit might fall into foreign hands.
The board, in response to a Bank of Italy request, said it’s unable to determine if the two Libyan investors are autonomous entities. The board is still reviewing the matter and needs more information, it said today.
Italian stock market regulator Consob and the Bank of Italy asked UniCredit to prove that the two investors are independent entities after the Libyan Investment Authority, a sovereign wealth fund, bought a 2.1 percent stake in the lender in July.
The Libyan fund and the Central Bank of Libya, which owns a 5 percent stake, would violate UniCredit’s statute if they were determined to be a sole entity because the bank restricts voting rights to 5 percent.