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Bluebell puts pressure on UniCredit newcomers

The maverick activist is blazing a trail by targeting a big southern European bank – and is warning against the risks of a deal between UniCredit and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena.

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As Andrea Orcel and Pier Carlo Padoan settle into their new roles as UniCredit’s respective chief executive and chairman, they face a rare and uncomfortable predicament at the bank: shareholder activism.

It is relatively unusual for any big bank to have to contend with activist investors. It is almost unheard of for a southern European bank to do so.

And Orcel and Padoan are facing that pressure from the off, without having had the chance to prove themselves.

The activist in question, Bluebell Capital Partners, is small; it only set itself up as a fund last year. Yet, it has already proven itself in a landmark success for activism in France, considered one of the hardest markets to crack for such investors. It pushed, alongside others, for French food conglomerate Danone to split the role of chairman and CEO.

Bluebell’s opening salvo at UniCredit has been to attack Padoan’s suitability for the chairman’s role.

He is a former member of parliament for the Italian city of Siena and was previously the finance minister who oversaw the 2017 bail-out of Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS).

Vocal approach

Concern about Padoan’s influence became widespread late last year, when his arrival as director and chairman-designate preceded the surprise departure of former chief executive Jean Pierre Mustier, who vocally opposed M&A during his tenure.

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