Tidjane Thiam
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Visionaries - April 28, 2022

The Making of Investment Banker Extraordinaire Tidjane Thiam

Tidjane Thiam is a phenomenal investment banker who has made significant contributions to the commercial and governmental sectors throughout the world, developing initiatives and programs that help businesses and economies grow.

He mentors some entrepreneurs and works closely with Heads of State and governments.

Who is Tidjane Thiam?

Tidjane Thiam is a Senegalese-Ivorian born in 1962 to two distinguished Senegalese and Ivorian families.

He was the first Ivorian to attend the École Polytechnique in Paris, where he received his diploma in 1984. He also studied at the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris, graduating first in his class in 1986.

In the same year, he was awarded a scholarship to study for an MBA program at INSEAD and attend the McKinsey Fellows Program in Paris. He received his MBA in 1988,

In 1989, he left McKinsey for a year to participate in the World Bank’s Young Professionals Program in Washington, D.C. He rejoined McKinsey in 1990.

Career Pursuit

Tidjane Thiam returned to Côte d’Ivoire in 1994 on the invitation of President Henri Konan Bédié to oversee the Department of Works after the death of the first Ivorian President, Félix Houphout-Boigny, in 1993.

Later, he was named CEO of the National Bureau for Technical Studies and Development (BNETD). Apart from his CEO role, in 1998, he was appointed Minister of Planning and Development.

While in service, he advocated private sector engagement in infrastructure development throughout Côte d’Ivoire. He oversaw major projects such as the Azito power plant, the refurbishment of Abidjan airport, and the building of the Riviera Marcory toll bridge, which was completed only days before the 1999 coup.

In 1998, the World Economic Forum in Davos named him one of the yearly 100 Global Leaders for Tomorrow for his contributions to the country’s growth. He was also chosen to the Forum’s Dream Cabinet in 1999.

While there, he amassed different experiences. He said, “It was my responsibility to negotiate with the IMF and the World Bank and work with the Privatisation Committee as we set out to sell off the extensive state-owned assets. I learned a lot there and, I hope, also contributed a little to the country.”

However, in 1999, things took a turn for the worst. The Ivorian military staged a coup while he was away. When he returned to the country, he was arrested, detained and jailed for many weeks.

After his release, he was offered a new position, but he rejected it and departed the country in early 2000.

Working in the International waters

Getting back to Europe, Tidjane Thiam was given a partnership deal by McKinsey in Paris and became one of the firm’s financial institutions’ practice leaders.

He later joined Aviva in 2002 as a corporate strategy and development director. Tidjane became managing director of Aviva International, chief executive of Aviva Europe, and an executive director on the plc board.

He left Aviva in 2007 and became the chief financial officer of Prudential plc. In 2009, he was promoted to the chief executive position when Mark Tucker chose to step down.

This made him the first African to run an FTSE 100 listed firm. He later left the post in 2015 and joined Credit Suisse Group. He was named Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Credit Suisse Group, a Swiss investment bank and financial services corporation.

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Thiam’s appointment was preceded by a stock increase of 7.5% in the company. Also, in the first two years of his tenure, he oversaw the bank through a cost-cutting and job-cutting restructuring process. 

In 2016, he was paid $9.9 million. His initial remuneration ought to be $11.2 million in the following year, but it was cut amid shareholder outrage to $10.2 million.

From 2016 to 2019, the company’s wealth management business grew under his leadership. For the fourth year, the firm added net new assets of CHF121 billion (113.7 billion), and pre-tax earnings from wealth management climbed by double digits (+15 %).

In 2020, he resigned from Credit Suisse due to an allegation that was later resolved. He is currently the executive chairman of a New York-based company Freedom Acquisition.

Challenges: Prudential and Credit Suisse

Despite his outstanding professional achievements in the banking field, he experienced some challenges along the way.

Prudential announced a bid for AIA after he became the company’s CEO. However, a public dispute began, with some investors objecting to Prudential’s offer of $35.5 billion. The AIG board rejected a revised lower price, and the deal was cancelled.

AIA was eventually listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and its worth surpassed Prudential’s initial offer. As a result, Thiam received harsh backlash.

He was, nevertheless, re-elected as CEO in 2011 with 99.3% of the vote. The deal’s collapse does not appear to have harmed the company’s success since then.

Credit Suisse

In 2019, Tidjane Thiam was embroiled in a controversy involving Iqbal Khan, a former Credit Suisse employee who had relocated to UBS.

Khan, the former head of Credit Suisse’s Wealth Management division, accused Tidjane of sending spies after him.

The same year, the Homburger investigation delivered its findings to the Credit Suisse board, claiming that Pierre-Olivier Bouée, Credit Suisse’s COO, not Thiam, had decided to pursue Khan independently. Hence, he was acquitted of the false claim.

In 2020, Tidjane resigned due to a power struggle that erupted from the espionage incident, and the Credit Suisse Board of Directors unanimously accepted his resignation. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) also said that the incident would have no bearing on Tidjane’s position in the Olympic Movement and, therefore, his membership in the IOC, which he will retain until he reaches the statutory retirement age of 70.

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