In 2019, former Credit Suisse CEO Tidjane Thiam was accused by former employee Iqbal Khan of sending spies after him. Although Thiam maintained his innocence, the ensuing power struggle and scandal forced his resignation in February this year. His successor is Thomas Gottstein, a man with over 20 years of experience at Credit Suisse and a well-regarded position in the wider banking community. Despite taking over during one of the worst periods for banking in generations, Gottstein has managed to weather the COVID storm to slowly begin restoring trust in the bank’s somewhat battered reputation. Find out more with these ten things you didn’t know about Thomas Gottstein.
1. His appointment was a shoo-in
When Tidjane’s exit was announced in February this year, all eyes immediately fell to Gottstein. Described as the ‘natural successor’ to the beleaguered former CEO, his appointment on 14 February 2020 was greeted with enthusiasm but very little surprise. “When the noise started about Tidjane’s exit, the talk internally was that Thomas was really the only internal contender,” one senior investment banker said to fnlondon.com. “His appointment is good news, I think, he understands the importance of the global franchise, connectivity between the divisions, and the importance of the investment bank sales and trading.”
2. He’s been with Credit Suisse for 20 years
If Gottstein was pleased with his promotion to CEO, there was no doubt a small part of him that thought ‘not before time.’ The banker has clocked up an impressive 2 decades with the bank, working for 13 years as a manager in the investment banking division in London, as well as several years in private banking in Zurich. Prior to joining Credit Suisse in 1999, he was employed by the rival firm UBS.
3. He was a key player in the Glencore deal
In 2011, Gottstein made a splash at Credit Suisse when he played an integral role in the oil and gas giant Glencore’s initial public offering. In a dual listing in London and Hong Kong, the company was valued at around $US60 billion, making it one of the biggest flotations ever seen in London and a major coop for Gottstein and the 8 other bankers involved in the deal.
4. He believes the pandemic has strengthened banks
When Credit Suisse washed its hand of Thiam and installed Gottstein as CEO, it no doubt thought the worst of its troubles were over. Unbeknownst to them, a wind was blowing in from China, a wind that would deal a devasting blow to the world’s health and wealth. But despite the challenges of the ensuing lockdown, Gottstein believes that COVID has actually worked in the favor of the banking community. “The coronavirus crisis actually helped to strengthen those historic or traditional functions of banks, which is to provide liquidity and credit lending to corporates and individuals,” he’s claimed.
5. He’s cut an entire tier of management
In July this year, Gottstein announced that he would be implementing some changes at Credit Suisse. A mammoth restructuring plan was subsequently implemented. Along with abandoning the bank’s hierarchal style of communication for a more informal set-up (more on which shortly), Gottstein cut an entire layer of management. In justification of the move, he cited reduced costs and improved efficiency. No doubt the trading surge in Q2 of 2020 also influenced the decision, with Gottstein commenting via the Financial Times, “These initiatives should also help to provide resilience in uncertain markets and deliver further upside when more positive economic conditions prevail.”
6. He believes in plain-speaking
When Gottstein implemented his restructuring plan at Credit Suisse earlier this year, it wasn’t only a tier of management that got the chop. Speaking to finews.com, he explained how he believed the style of communication between employees at the bank was as ripe for a makeover as the decentralized, hierarchal systems and procedures. Under previous CEOS, bankers addressed each in the formal “Sie” rather than the first name “du” – a habit that put distance between them and their colleagues. Gottstein, however, is more of a fan of the informal, American style of communication. “We had a too hierarchical structure. Everyone was very formal with one another. In investment banking, I was used to approaching people directly, even younger staff. That wasn’t necessarily the case in the Swiss business,” he says, before adding that since the restructure “we’re on a first-name basis now.”
7. He’s a keen golfer
When he’s not at the office, Gottstein can usually be found on the golf course. In his youth, he was considered one of Switzerland’s best amateur golfers, even getting as far as the European Masters. “It was overwhelming,” he’s recalled of the experience to credit-suisse.com. “The entire atmosphere, the high-caliber playing field, and, of course, this fantastic golf course which is definitely the most beautiful course in the Alps.” While his competing days are behind him, he still makes sure to find enough time to maintain his handicap of +0.5.
8. He’s got a Ph.D. in finance
After completing high school, Gottstein studied at the University of Zurich, graduating with a degree in Business Administration and Economics in 1989. Keen to explore the subject further, he returned to the university to continue his studies, eventually graduating with a Ph.D. in Finance and Accounting in 1995.
9. He sees growth potential in Asia
Keen to make his mark as CEO, Gottstein is hoping to move the bank into a period of significant growth…. and he’s already got a good idea of where the growth will come from. “The great growth opportunities are in Asia and the emerging markets,” he’s said. “We want to grow there at least with the market or faster.”
10. He believes the future lies in conciliation
For some time, people have been speculating about a future merger between Credit Suisse and its biggest rival, UBS. For now, Gottstein has ruled out the possibility unless it brings serious added value. He does, however, believe that the only way the banking industry will overcome the problems caused by the ever-tighter squeeze on margins and negative interest is through consolidation. He’s also been known to comment that most markets suffer from a surplus of banks.