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Rohner toughs it out

Why Rohner left UBS 

26 February 2009

“We will not have done enough until we return to profitability”

Walking down Zurich’s main thoroughfare, the Bahnhofstrasse, on a crisp, clear and surprisingly mild January morning can be an eerie experience.

It’s 8.45am and you’re at the heart of the world’s most successful financial industry per capita: Swiss private banking. But there’s not a car, or even tram, in sight.

You could be forgiven for thinking the locals are steering clear of UBS’s neo-classical headquarters. For the past 18 months, chief executive Marcel Rohner must have felt terribly isolated within its walls as he tried to rescue the bank and cope with the anger of Swiss people and ritual condemnation in its local media.

Just a few days after Euromoney visited Rohner, another major UBS building, located in the Paradelplatz, one of Zurich’s most expensive squares, was vandalized by protesters.

Q: What was the worst moment of the crisis for you?

The point when we recognized the magnitude of the problems the bank faced was hard. But that recognition is also a turning point – it is the basis of dealing with those issues.

In the beginning it appeared to our clients, our shareholders and our regulators that we were one of very few that were suffering. Over time it became clear how tough this environment was for everyone. But the early period, when the issues were perhaps smaller, seemed subjectively worse.

Q: Do you enjoy the challenges that you have faced?

It is not so much a question of enjoyment as fulfilment. These are important challenges. At times they make you very uncomfortable, but you expect that. There is a lot of anxiety and pressure. But you get fulfilment from setting targets and achieving those results. That is very rewarding.

Q: Is there added pressure, sitting here in Zurich, being the chief executive of a business so closely associated with Switzerland?

Of course. If you are part of a large institution in a small country you get a lot of exposure.

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