Abigail Hofman: The rise of self-effacement
Euromoney Limited, Registered in England & Wales, Company number 15236090
4 Bouverie Street, London, EC4Y 8AX
Copyright © Euromoney Limited 2024
Accessibility | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Modern Slavery Statement

Abigail Hofman: The rise of self-effacement

The past two turbulent years have also redefined the adjectives that are acceptable to describe a chief executive in the financial services industry

As detailed in the July issue of Euromoney, HSBC was named the magazine’s Bank of the yearand Credit Suisse won the award for Best investment bank. I recently met Brady Dougan, Credit Suisse’s chief executive, and found him extremely impressive. As we walked away from the meeting with Dougan, my editor commented: "I think Dougan is the most self-effacing and laid-back CEO, I’ve ever met." In my June column, I offered a guide to decoding the vocabulary used by senior bankers who have left the industry. The past two turbulent years have also redefined the adjectives that are acceptable to describe a chief executive in the financial services industry. In fact, "self-effacing" is the only adjective a chief executive wants coupled with his name these days. The adjective, which the Compact Oxford Dictionary defines as "not claiming attention for oneself", says everything. It says you are not arrogant. It says you recognize mistakes have been made. It says you don’t travel in private jets as a matter of course. It says you understand that outside Planet Banker the world is tough. And finally, it says you are not a tyrant and that you listen to others even though you are probably brighter than them. The word "self-effacing" is a litmus test that we should apply to those who run businesses. After all, would anyone ever have described Jimmy Cayne, the former Bear Stearns chief executive, or Dick Fuld, the former Lehman Brothers chief executive, as self-effacing? Of course, if you are leading a global business your character has to combine the self-effacing with the charismatic. It’s no good sitting in a corner being humble if no one will follow you. The new ‘lite’ self-effacing financial chief executive can be compared with the old Wall Street model: the imperial chief executive. Imperial chief executives still linger on: think John Mackof Morgan Stanley, Ken Lewisof Bank of America and Jamie Dimonat JPMorgan. But that style of management by fear and barking orders is on the wane. The imperial chief executive is a fatally wounded animal because I believe the boards of US financial services companies will increasingly decide to split the chairman and chief executive functions – which has already happened to Lewis at Bank of America.

More from Abigail

HSBC has had a good crisis

Some are wondering who might be in line to succeed present chief executive Mike Geoghegan should he move on in a few years

A tale of two streets

The disconnect between wall street and main street widens

Awards for Excellence 

A number of senior financiers made an enormous effort to join the party

Identity crisis at Morgan Stanley? 

Morgan Stanley’s fixed-income traders have not excelled and in 2009 the firm has failed to capitalize on opportunities in the flow businesses

Gift this article