Tidjane Thiam

Could the prodigy of a wealthy African family cut it in the hush-hush world of a Swiss big bank? Ultimately, the answer was no. On 14 February, Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam was forced to resign from his post following a number of leaks related in particular to a spying operation ordered by the bank. Thiam was apparently unaware of what was going on – practices described in certain quarters as par for the course at Credit Suisse.

Having already tendered his resignation, Thiam presented the Credit Suisse annual results, announcing a 70 per cent increase in net profit in 2019. Clearly, results were not the problem. The issue was more to do with Thiam’s backstory, which reads like a novel. Born into privilege, Thiam made the most of his intelligence and drive to study at France’s prestigious École Polytechnique, before becoming a government minister in Côte d’Ivoire, then ‘king’ of London’s financial district. His address book includes names such as Barack Obama, David Cameron and François Hollande. Thiam’s flamboyant background was never going to sit easily in the dour environment of a Swiss big bank. “When a person moves to a new country,” Thiam told the “Le Monde” newspaper in 2015, “I believe that the onus is on them to understand the culture in that country.”

Although Credit Suisse is more international than Swiss, the bank needed someone more ‘grounded’. The solution came in the form of Thomas Gottstein, who was previously chief of Credit Suisse’s Swiss operations. This was the home-grown manager whom the Board of Directors presented as Thiam’s successor.

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