UBS: Villiger and Grubel To Sweep Away the Kurer/Rohner/Ospel Legacy


The appointment of Kaspar Villiger as Chairman of UBS marks a clear intention of “Switzerland Inc” to assert control over the bank & future banking regulatory changes.


The arrival of Kaspar Villiger as UBS Chairman marks the second “shock” C-suite shuffle within a week. The Swiss government and the EBK will be relieved that UBS has a sensible, statesmanlike, highly experienced ex-finance minister of the Helvetic Confederation in the Chairman’s office just when UBS will be a leader in the attempts to salvage banking privacy and fight off other supranational regualtory initiatives that may harm the Swiss banking model.

It is remarkable to reflect that already Marcel Ospel is almost forgotten in the global media despite dominating UBS for so many years. His replacement as Chairman, Peter Kurer, never really got to grips with the bank which was already spinning out of control. The explosion in the private banking business (particularly the US investigation) has cost both him and CEO Marcel Rohner their positions.

With Villiger clearly taking a brief to represent UBS (and therefore effectively head a lot of Swiss banking efforts) to assuage regulatory change overseas, the position of new CEO Ossie Grubel is effectively made all the more significant. Operational control and the entire corporate vision will now be clearly under the suzereinty of the former Credit Suisse CEO.

This is a very interesting executive combination. It is a slightly unorthodox approach (by conservative Swiss standards, even risky) but one which has the potential to succeed. Nevertheless, both men will need to be at the top of their game to ensure UBS can replenish its coffers and revamp its reputation.

Of course, the downside is considerable. While largely forgotten outside the country, within Switzerland,  Marcel Ospel, the architect of the “modern” UBS, has gone from the nation’s most popular businessman in 2007 to its most reviled citizen. Interestingly, in 2001, then Finance Minister Villiger argued publicly with Ospel that flagship airline Swissair had collapsed because Ospel had refused to advance money to save the group. The former Finance Minister has considerable motivation on all levels to lead the team to ensure UBS has a safe and secure future!


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