Who will be HSBC’s next CEO? An internal candidate seems likely for Europe’s largest bank

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HSBC Holdings Plc is leaning towards appointing its next chief executive officer from a shortlist of internal candidates as it begins its hunt for a successor to outgoing boss Noel Quinn.

Chief Financial Officer Georges Elhedery and Nuno Matos, head of wealth and personal banking, are viewed as the leading replacements for Quinn, who announced his retirement last month, according to people familiar with the matter. The bank has engaged an external recruitment firm to benchmark them against external candidates for the job, some of the people said, asking not to be identified discussing an internal process.

The search is just getting underway and the board could still go in another direction, the people said. A spokesperson for HSBC declined to comment.

The internal roster is seen as strong and help avoid a protracted search to replace Quinn given many external candidates would likely have to complete a period of gardening leave before they’re able to join. Chairman Mark Tucker has said he expects to wrap up the process in the second half of the year.

Quinn announced last month that he is stepping down, a surprise move that comes as Europe’s largest lender tries to navigate the deteriorating relationship between China and the US. During his tenure, Quinn led a series of strategic reviews that culminated in a plan to boost the bank’s investment in its Asian business, while cutting back in markets such as the US and France. 

The company is committed to that strategy going forward, even as tensions continue to flare between Beijing and Washington. An external candidate would be more likely to want to debut a new strategy, which has also left the board more inclined to back the internal bench of talent, the people familiar with the matter said. 

Cultivating Talent

Elhedery, 50, took over the CFO role at the start of 2023. The Lebanese native rose through the ranks of HSBC’s markets division and spent several weeks shadowing Quinn before taking on his latest role. 

In 2022, Elhedery embarked on a six-month long sabbatical from the bank. He used that time to learn Mandarin and — if chosen to replace Quinn — he would be the first CEO of the bank in modern times to speak Chinese.

Some of HSBC’s largest investors have long wanted the bank’s most senior leaders to have stronger ties to Asia, where HSBC makes the majority of its revenue, according to the people familiar with the matter. The board is aware of investors’ wishes on that front, the people said.  

Matos, 56, has also staked a strong claim for the job having received a series of promotions that propelled the former Banco Santander SA executive from CEO of HSBC’s Mexican business to head of its largest division. The Portuguese native also relocated from London to Hong Kong as part of the bank’s focus on Asia.

Headhunters are putting together a list of several outside candidates, according to the people familiar with the matter. That includes Charlie Nunn, a former HSBC executive who became CEO of Lloyds Banking Group Plc in 2021.  

Nunn was seen as a potential successor to Quinn before he left HSBC after his decade-long stint with the bank. Before joining HSBC, he was a senior partner at McKinsey & Co. and earlier worked at Accenture Plc.

Earlier this month, Nunn responded to a question about whether he was interested in being the next boss of HSBC by telling an audience at Bloomberg’s Sell Side Forum in London that he was focused on his current role. 

“I’ve got a new team in place,” Nunn said. “I’m very excited about the next few years at Lloyds.”

What Bloomberg Intelligence Says

The experience of JPMorgan alumnus Bill Winters at Standard Chartered shows a heavy-hitting external candidate may not be the best option. HSBC must demonstrate its ability to accelerate growth in Asia, now franchise streamlining has been largely completed, and we increasingly suspect an internal candidate could be preferred. George Elhedery (CFO), Nuno Matos (CEO of Wealth and Personal Banking) and Gregory Guyett (CEO of Global Banking and Markets, ex-JPMorgan) are likely among Quinn’s potential successors.

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