Creative, tireless, and optimistic, these corporate visionaries have replaced Europe's no-growth mindset with a new-growth spirit
Only five years ago, Fortis was a little-noticed country cousin of Europe's big banks. No more. The Belgian-Dutch banking and insurance group has remade itself, shedding noncore businesses while making targeted acquisitions to beef up its profitable banking operations. And while the overhaul took place mainly on the watch of former Chief Executive Anton van Rossum, who retired last fall, his replacement, Jean-Paul Votron, looks set to keep growth on track.
Votron, the former head of Citigroup's European retail banking operation, has promised to expand Fortis' commercial and private banking businesses, now based primarily in the Benelux region, across 25 European countries--from Ireland to Turkey--over the next four years. Banking produces 80% of Fortis' profits, even though three-fourths of revenues come from insurance.
To finance acquisitions, Votron is selling off the group's U.S. insurance portfolio. At the same time, Votron is delivering solid growth. First-quarter net profits, excluding exceptional items, were up 26% from the same period in 2004, to €1.04 billion. Investors like what they see: Fortis shares are up 28% over the past year.
What's next? Analysts figure Votron is keeping his eye out for a merger with another midsize European financial-services group. That would place this former country cousin firmly within the family of Europe's biggest banks.