A murder on Madison Avenue
The arrival of John Mack as CEO of CSFB was preceded by an execution that would have done "the Knife" himself proud. Credit Suisse Group chief executive Lukas Mühlemann hired Mack before he despatched Allen Wheat and after telling his old CEO his job was safe. But with CSFB mired in regulatory problems, struggling to digest ill-advised acquisitions and riven with in-fighting generated by Wheat's distinctive approach to growing the business, he had little choice. Mack has a formidable reputation, but can he dismantle CSFB's byzantine cliques and create a single culture?
The words hit Allen Wheat like a blow to the stomach. The CEO of Credit Suisse First Boston was spending a week in the London office on Cabot Square in Canary Wharf. Late in the afternoon of July 11, a warm but overcast English summer's day, he sat down for a chat with his boss, CEO of the Credit Suisse Group Lukas Mühlemann, who had flown over from Zurich.
The meeting, Mühlemann had told him in advance, was to discuss strategy for the investment-banking unit that Wheat had run as CEO since late 1997, and run in all but name as president and COO since 1993.
It might, Wheat knew, be a tough meeting. CSFB had not had a good run of late. In the previous two years it had breached, or was under investigation for breaching, regulatory practices in the US, the UK, Sweden, Japan and India. It had spent $13 billion on Donaldson Lufkin&Jenrette at what turned out to be the top of the market - and the acquisition was arguably a poor fit to start with. And yet again Wheat had found himself having to cut deals with individuals or teams to get them to stay, deals that were lucrative to the bankers involved, but not good for the shareholders or for the firm's overall culture.