LONDON — HSBC Holdings PLC Friday confirmed that Stuart Gulliver, its head of investment banking, will replace Michael Geoghegan as chief executive, while chief financial officer Douglas Flint will succeed Stephen Green as group chairman.
Confirmation of the appointments, widely trailed since late Thursday, isn't likely to trigger major changes in strategy at the U.K.-based bank. However, it concludes a dramatic chain of events for a bank that avoided the big shakeups that affected many of its peers during the financial crisis.
HSBC's greater focus on Asia meant the bank was less hurt by the crisis than some other U.K. banks, although a lending business it bought in the U.S. in 2003 was responsible for dragging down earnings at the bank for several quarters.
Geoghegan, with more than 35 years at the bank, is leaving after he was told by the board he wasn't likely to make chairman, according to a person familiar with the situation. Geoghegan is stepping down as CEO and from the board at the end of this year but will continue to be employed by the bank in an advisory capacity until March 31, 2011 when he will retire, HSBC said in a statement.
Flint's appointment breaks with the bank's tradition of appointing its CEO as chairman. Stephen Green previously announced he is leaving to become U.K. trade minister at the end of the year, but people familiar with the situation said the board didn't believe Geoghegan was prepared for a role which has increasingly become that of international representative for all issues, including the hot topic of regulation.
Tapping an executive director for the role would also be seen as poor corporate governance in the U.K. In addition, Geoghegan reportedly clashed with John Thornton, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker who is a non-executive member of HSBC's board and was until recently a leading contender for the position.
Instead, HSBC has chosen two executives who already work well together. Gulliver, 51 years old, started at HSBC in 1980 and has been responsible for building a strong investment banking business in Hong Kong.
Flint, 55, has been HSBC's financial chief since 1995 and is well respected by industry peers. He will take over when Green formally retires following a Dec. 3 board meeting.
HSBC is the second bank in recent weeks to appoint an investment banker as its head. Barclays PLC recently named Barclays Capital's Bob Diamond as CEO starting next year, when John Varley retires.
Appointing an investment banking veteran to run a bank in the U.K. could prove tricky, at least politically. The government has set up an independent commission on banking, which among other things will look at the possibility of breaking up banks' retail and investment banking operations.
The commission will soon hold hearings with banks' executives to discuss this and other issues. It is scheduled to present its final recommendations to the government in September, 2011.
Other executive changes announced by HSBC Friday include the appointment of Sandy Flockhart as Chairman, Europe, Middle East, Africa, Latin America and Commercial Banking. Sir Simon Robertson, Chairman of HSBC Bank PLC, who led the search for the new chairman, will remain a senior independent non-executive director and assume the role of Deputy Chairman. Iain Mackay becomes Group Finance Director.