Abigail Hofman: The invisibility of Montag and Varvel

By:
Abigail Hofman
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Increasingly, I am noticing that while bank chief executives have to be seen in public, heads of investment banks are trying to keep a very low profile.

The general public sees bankers, and especially investment bankers, as public enemy number one and no amount of spin is going to change that. But some chiefs are now engaging with the press so rarely that they have become an invisible force.

Tom Montag, global banking and markets chief at Bank of America, is a good example. He is running one of the largest global investment banks but we hardly hear a murmur from him. Last quarter, his area reported net income of $1.9 billion, down some 30% year on year.

The general public sees bankers, and especially investment bankers, as public enemy number one – no amount of spin is going to change that. But Tom Montag and Eric Varvel are now engaging with the press so rarely that they have become an invisible force
The general public sees bankers, and especially investment bankers, as public enemy number one – no amount of spin is going to change that. But Tom Montag and Eric Varvel are now engaging with the press so rarely that they have become an invisible force
I am surprised that Montag has not ventured into the public arena to give us an insight into the synergies of the Merrill/Bank of America merger and what progress his troops are making. But then I hear he takes a dim view of the press, having been left rather singed by the reaction to the $50 million pay packet that Merrill offered him in 2008, mid-crisis.

Another investment banking chief with a ghost-like press profile is Eric Varvel, head of Credit Suisse’s investment bank. If you Google Varvel’s name, no links to press interviews come up on the first page.

All the references are to Varvel’s contributions to Mitt Romney’s election campaign and the fact that both men are Mormons. I can only assume that Eric is too busy increasing the velocity of huge capital levels imposed by the Swiss finish to speak to the Fourth Estate.

It was thus a relief for me to spy the lesser-spotted mammal that is a bank chief executive in one of the animal’s natural habitats.

In late August, I was enjoying a light supper on the terrace of the famous Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich. Through the blur of my second Kir royale, I spotted a familiar figure at the next table. Looking closer, I decided that the deeply tanned man was either Sergio Ermotti, the chief executive of UBS, or his long-lost twin brother. Ermotti’s companion was a serious-looking middle-aged man who seemed to do most of the talking. Ermotti asked the occasional question and then leaned in to listen to the ensuing soliloquy.

I strained to overhear the conversation, but the two men were speaking softly and I am unable to relay any more titbits to my loyal readers. Nevertheless, I am delighted that some bank chiefs are still brave enough to show their faces in public.