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UBS is at early stage of CEO succession planning

UBS is in the early stages of planning the succession of Sergio Ermotti, one of European banking’s longest-serving chief executive officers, according to Chairman Axel Weber.

Ermotti, almost eight years on the job, and Weber himself are at "a point in time where you need to start thinking about what is it that you’re going to do and how you’re going to pass the bank over to your successors,” the chairman told Bloomberg Television in the bank’s first public confirmation that it’s working on replacing the CEO. “We’re at a very early stage of those discussions.’’

UBS in early talks with Bank of America’s ex-investment banking head Christian Meissner, 49, about succeeding to Ermotti, people with knowledge of the talks said last week. UBS is considering other candidates, the people said. Weber declined to comment on Meissner.

Meissner left Bank of America last year amid a fierce debate over certain types of deals after the U.S. lender got burned on a large margin loan. The tensions, described at the time by people familiar with the situation, also fueled the departure of other dealmakers who’d grown frustrated and believed they could take greater risks and generate higher profits elsewhere.

Sergio Ermotti UBS CEO at Davos in black Bloomberg News
Sergio Ermotti, chief executive officer of UBS AG, poses for a photograph following a Bloomberg Television interview at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. World leaders, influential executives, bankers and policy makers attend the 47th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos from Jan. 17 - 20. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Zurich-based UBS is laying the groundwork to find a replacement for Ermotti, 58, after high-profile departures in the past year or so, including top dealmaker Andrea Orcel and wealth-management head Juerg Zeltner.

“Part of what we do as a day-to-day business is to get as much talent into the bank as we can, good people, and in that process we are of course interviewing people,” Weber said. “But again, I don’t want to confirm or deny any discussions on any individuals.’’

Weber, 61, highlighted the importance of planning for both a new chairman and CEO given that he and Ermotti have been in their roles for almost eight years. Still, the change won’t happen quickly, he said.

“It’s not going to happen abruptly. We’re in a very good environment. We’re not driven by the clock.”