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UBS Names Ex-Morgan Stanley President as Chairman

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What You Need to Know

  • Colm Kelleher, 64, will stand for election to succeed Axel Weber at the Swiss firm’s annual meeting in April.
  • He helped Morgan Stanley’s investment bank rebuild client confidence after hedge funds pulled money during the crash.

UBS Group AG nominated former Morgan Stanley President Colm Kelleher as its next chairman, tapping an executive with broad banking and wealth experience to help oversee the firm’s pivot towards digital.

Kelleher, 64, will stand for election to succeed Axel Weber at the Swiss firm’s annual meeting in April, UBS said in a statement Saturday, confirming an earlier Bloomberg report that it was in discussions to appoint the Wall Street veteran. The bank also nominated Lukas Gaehwiler as vice chairman.

Kelleher — once considered a potential successor to Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman — will be helping steer a firm that’s seeking to boost its wealth management business in Asia and pursuing greater efficiency through more digital offerings.

At the same time, he’ll have to guide UBS through a costly lawsuit in France where the lender is contesting a huge fine for helping clients evade taxes.

The financier “has a deep understanding of the global banking landscape,” Weber said in the statement. “His more than 30 years of leadership experience in banking and excellent relationships around the world make Colm an ideal fit for UBS.”

Weber suggested in May the bank should consider appointing a chairwoman after he exits next year, as the bank seeks to address a lack of gender diversity on its board. Weber, who is himself involved in the search process along with CEO Ralph Hamers, plans to step down after about a decade.

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The search for his successor started early this year and is being led by senior independent director Jeremy Anderson.

The potential appointment at UBS come after Deutsche Bank AG also proposed this week Alexander Wynaendts as its next chairman of the supervisory board, tapping the former insurance executive to guide Germany’s largest lender as it emerges from a decade of crisis.

Kelleher retired from Morgan Stanley in mid-2019, though he continued as a senior adviser. He joined the New York-based company in fixed-income sales in 1989, before taking on responsibility for Morgan Stanley’s investment bank and trading operation. After taking on the retail brokerage in 2016, he had responsibility for the firm’s two biggest businesses.

One of nine siblings who grew up in Ireland’s County Cork and an Oxford University graduate, he’s experienced in crisis management, having served as chief financial officer during the financial meltdown of 2008, even conducting business lying down on his office floor after suffering a back injury in a car accident.

He helped Morgan Stanley’s investment bank rebuild client confidence after hedge funds pulled money during the crash. He cut back on bulky fixed-income trading positions as Morgan Stanley tried to mimic its success in electronically trading stocks.

Kelleher’s competitive spirit often manifested itself in the firm’s battles with Goldman Sachs Group Inc. In comments at a conference hosted by the rival firm in 2013, Kelleher discussed the “pleasure” he took in passing Goldman in stock-trading revenue, and has also said Morgan Stanley was catching up to Goldman in advisory fees because “we’re nicer guys.”

(Photographer: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg) 

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