HSBC sounded out ex-Citi banker Forese for CEO position

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HSBC sounded out former Citigroup banker James Forese to gauge his interest in the chief executive officer's post, at least the third high-profile outside financier to be approached.

Forese, 57, declined to participate in that process for personal reasons, according to people familiar with the matter. Instead, he took on a non-executive director role at HSBC, the bank said Tuesday.

A sign featuring a HSBC logo hangs outside a bank branch in London.

Candidates whose names have surfaced to run Europe's biggest bank by market value include UniCredit SpA's Jean Pierre Mustier and former Citigroup executive Stephen Bird. Mustier last month withdrew from the process, and the Sunday Times has reported Bird took himself out of the running.

HSBC declined to comment.

HSBC has been seeking a permanent chief since August, when Chairman Mark Tucker ousted John Flint after just 18 months on the job. Interim head Noel Quinn, once seen as the front-runner, last month unveiled a strategic overhaul that will eliminate 35,000 jobs and drop some lines of business.

Forese, who started his Wall Street career with Salomon Brothers in 1985, became head of Citigroup's trading operations in 2007 as the financial crisis loomed. He helped the firm recover from the crash and repay a $45 billion taxpayer bailout. During his tenure, however, the bank was also embroiled in allegations that it rigged interest rates and currency markets across the globe and misled investors about the quality of mortgage-backed bonds.

He continued to climb the ranks at Citigroup, and analysts speculated he might succeed CEO Michael Corbat. Forese's final role before his departure last year was head of the institutional clients group, a sprawling division that includes trading, investment banking and private banking, along with one of the world's biggest transaction-services businesses. ICG generated about $39 billion of revenue in 2019, more than half the bank's total.

His appointment to the HSBC board was well-received internally, one of the people said.

Bloomberg News