As UBS Group AG executives and board members convened for annual meetings this week in Zurich, one subject was impossible to ignore: succession planning and the future of Chief Executive Officer Sergio Ermotti.
It’s a topic that’s been forced into the open in recent weeks at the world’s largest wealth manager, testing a long-standing partnership between Ermotti and Chairman Axel Weber. The bank’s hunt for top executives who could become the next CEO has gathered pace after the departure of promising leaders in recent months and against a backdrop of slumping shares.
The two men at the center of the search are seeking to take control of the narrative and signal a unified front. While details and the timeline of any leadership changes are still fluid, Ermotti and Weber — who publicly emphasize the bank’s internal talent — are also privately acknowledging the need for outside executives to strengthen the management bench, according to 10 people familiar with the matter interviewed by Bloomberg, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
In Zurich on Monday night, where the executive board gathered for dinner ahead of a Wednesday meeting, Ermotti stressed that he and Weber are aligned, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions. He also signaled that any change at the top wouldn’t be immediate and will happen over time.
A UBS spokesman declined to comment.
The challenge of replenishing management is falling to two men with widely divergent backgrounds and experiences. Ermotti, 58, is one of the longest-serving bank CEOs in Europe, with a 32-year career in finance at banks including UniCredit SpA and Merrill Lynch & Co. and is at ease on the trading floor. Weber, 61, studied economics and public administration and served as a member of the European Central Bank’s governing council from 2004 to 2011.
It’s still unclear if UBS would create new positions, or existing executives would make way for new hires. The bank has co-heads for both its key wealth-management and investment-banking businesses.
Ermotti and Weber have overseen a push to pivot the bank away from investment banking since the global financial crisis to focus on managing money for the rich. The firm merged its two wealth-management businesses last year under co-heads Martin Blessing and Tom Naratil, making that unit the centerpiece of a plan to boost growth. Those plans haven’t helped reverse a share decline in the past year as growth across Europe has slowed.