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UniCredit and Mustier: How not to fire a CEO

In rushing to oust chief executive Jean Pierre Mustier halfway through the reporting cycle, UniCredit’s board may have revealed its weaknesses, not its strength.

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Should UniCredit, under a new chief executive, try to be more like Intesa Sanpaolo?

Given the two Italian banks’ relative share-price performances, especially in 2020, it is a valid question. UniCredit’s increasingly weak profitability compared with Intesa’s is important to its Italian clients, who are unusually sensitive to their bank’s solidity.

Italian retail banking, of course, has never been UniCredit’s strongest point – unlike at Intesa.

That’s why Jean Pierre Mustier, who is stepping down as UniCredit’s chief executive in April, put more emphasis on providing fee-earning services for internationally oriented corporates across Europe.

But it is also understandable why some on UniCredit’s board would have been frustrated with this strategy and with Mustier’s attendant opposition to mergers with other Italian retail banks.

Intesa has been far quicker to take advantage of such opportunities, to the growing advantage of its share price.

Fresh start

That makes it justifiable for UniCredit’s board to want a fresh start under a CEO who might focus more on the bank’s home market – perhaps an Italian with international experience.

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