Star banking veteran Christian Meissner was only six months into the job as co-head of a Credit Suisse unit that creates closer links between its wealth management and investment banking divisions before he was handed a much bigger challenge.
Amid a crisis at the Swiss bank — it’s bracing for a $4.7bn hit from the fallout of the $20bn firesale of shares owned by hedge fund Archegos Capital Management — Meissner has just become the head of its investment bank. He takes over from Brian Chin, who has been ousted after just nine months as the Archegos saga jolts Wall Street.
Friends of Meissner told FN that he harboured ambitions to move up the ranks at the Swiss bank, but he wasn’t expecting a bigger role so quickly.
“Christian is a frank guy — almost brutally so,” said one former colleague. “If there are problems at Credit Suisse, he won’t be shy in telling you about them.”
Meissner had been linked with some of the top jobs in European banking. The Austrian was touted as a potential replacement for former UBS chief executive Sergio Ermotti, who was replaced by Ralph Hamers in September, and reportedly linked with the CEO role at Deutsche Bank in 2019. That spot was eventually taken by internal candidate, Christian Sewing.
The straight-talking investment banker is used to dealing with crises. In 2010, he joined Bank of America as head of investment banking in Europe, the Middle East and Africa as it was trying to integrate the hard-charging investment bankers of Merrill Lynch, which it bought for $50bn in an all-share deal at the depths of the financial crisis.
Bank of America was bleeding talent, with top investment bankers jumping ship as it looked to blend its staid corporate bank with the Wall Street dealmakers at Merrill Lynch.
“We had a bunch of demotivated investment bankers, struggling with a culture, and Christian had to focus on big client relationships, hire extensively externally and really turn the ship around,” said a former Bank of America executive who has worked with Meissner.
Credit Suisse presents a different challenge. The huge losses related to Archegos, which chief executive Thomas Gottstein said were “unacceptable” were racked up in its prime broking division. Meissner has little experience managing sales and trading units and the scope of the role is arguably bigger than anything he has faced so far in his career.
But beyond the crisis, its investment bank has been performing well — revenues are up by 50% year on year, it said in a 16 March trading update, with capital markets and trading revenues all surging amid ongoing volatility and record dealmaking activity.
Credit Suisse has been bolstering its team of M&A dealmakers, and has benefitted hugely from the boom in blank-cheque companies that has hauled in a record $4.7bn in fees for investment banks so far this year.
One former senior banker, who worked with Meissner at Bank of America, said that one of his strengths was to take a “dispassionate” view of what needs to be changed at an organisation.
“He is very methodical about coming up with a plan, and incredibly diligent when it comes to pushing it through,” he said.
Meissner started out at Morgan Stanley, before joining Goldman Sachs in 1994 in its German equity capital markets team. He spent 10 years at the US investment bank, rising to head of its German ECM business after advising on some sizable deals including the 1996 flotation of Deutsche Telekom, before eventually being promoted to lead its European ECM unit alongside Matthew Westerman.
Two years after becoming a partner at Goldman, he jumped to Lehman Brothers in 2004, initially as co-head of German investment banking on a reported guaranteed package of $6.3m a year. There, he was promoted to co-head of European investment banking alongside Perry Hoffmeister in 2006, and two years later was named co-chief executive of its Emea business, just weeks before its 2008 collapse.
At Bank of America, he was named head of Emea investment banking in 2010, but was quickly promoted to global co-head of corporate and investment banking, a unit he took sole charge of in 2012. He put in place a structure that simplified the bank’s sprawling network of clients, and focusing its dealmakers on bringing in more revenues from bigger-hitting clients.
Meissner also, according to one former bank executive, had to deal with an “extraordinary turnover of senior investment bankers”, which he had to restock with external hires and internal promotions.
“It would have been easy for him to surround himself with people he hired from Goldman or Lehman, but he was much more open-minded in using the resources he inherited and the people he brought in,” said the dealmaker. “He’s not clubby and he’s no politician.”
“He’s a good man motivator and on internal calls will lay out the facts in a very straightforward way — he’s not the kind of guy that will shout, scream and talk over people in order to get his point across,” added another former Bank of America executive who has worked with Meissner.
Meissner’s exit from Bank of America came amid a reported reduction in risk appetite at the bank, which had dented its investment banking ambitions. Its chief executive Brian Moynihan admitted during the bank’s 2018 third quarter that it “didn’t get our fair share”. He was replaced by hard-charging Australian, Matthew Koder, who set a target of hiring up to 70 managing directors and hitting a top three league table position in every region and product in which it operates.
But Meissner has worked in Germany, Switzerland, the UK and the US. He was educated at Princeton University and one former colleague described him as the “perfect Transatlantic fit” for Credit Suisse, as he both understands Swiss culture and has international experience.
But Credit Suisse dealmakers remain apprehensive of the appointment, after having 18-year bank veteran Chin in charge.
“He’s a bit of an unknown entity,” said one senior dealmaker at the bank.
Credit Suisse and Bank of America declined to comment. Meissner was contacted for comment.
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