(Repeats to fix format, no change to headline or text: New
throughout, adds background on conflict with board)
By Gianluca Semeraro
MILAN, Sept 29 Italy's largest retail bank
Intesa Sanpaolo ousted CEO Enrico Cucchiani on Sunday,
after he clashed with the powerful chairman of the lender's
supervisory board and several influential shareholders.
In a statement after a hastily convened meeting of its
management and supervisory boards, the bank said Cucchiani would
be replaced by his deputy Carlo Messina, who was already in
charge of the retail network.
The bank gave no reason for Cucchiani's abrupt departure.
Insiders have told Reuters the manager attracted criticism
within the bank for his solitary management style and his
aversion to risking bank money on bailing out Italian companies.
Cucchiani, 63, had been appointed in November 2011 after
long-standing Chief Executive Corrado Passera quit to join the
government of then-premier Mario Monti.
His ousting comes at a time of deep political and economic
malaise in Italy, which risks a government crisis after
centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi pulled his ministers out
of a coalition government.
Several sources with direct knowledge of the situation told
Reuters last week that Cucchiani had fallen out with supervisory
board chairman Giovanni Bazoli, an octogenarian banker and a
well-known power broker in corporate Italy.
According to insiders, one sticking point was the handling
of a 1.2 billion euro loan to Intesa Sanpaolo's shareholder
Carlo Tassara, which the bank handed out before Cucchiani's
Intesa Sanpaolo' boards had been due to meet on Tuesday, but
they were brought forward to Sunday evening to decide on the
fate of the CEO ahead of the market reopening.
Bazoli's bid to force Cucchiani out was backed by his ally
Giuseppe Guzzetti, the boss of a the Cariplo charitable
foundation that is also Intesa's No.2 shareholder, the sources
said. Cariplo and other banking foundations, which also withdrew
their backing to Cucchiani, have a combined stake of around 25
percent in Intesa Sanpaolo.
Cucchiani was formerly at the helm of the Italian unit of
German insurance giant Allianz and is well respected
However, several Intesa insiders told Reuters he angered
Bazoli and Guzzetti because of his opposition to so-called
systemic deals, whereby a bank such as Intesa would ride to the
rescue of struggling companies to keep them in Italian hands.
The management struggle at Intesa has coincided with a deal
last week that strengthened the grip of Spain's Telefonica
over Telecom Italia, Italy's biggest telecoms
operator in which the bank is a key shareholder.
Telecom Italia's boss Franco Bernabe may also leave this
week, sources close to the situation said.
Cucchiani's ouster marks a break from the past for Intesa,
which likes to portray itself as a prudent lender not inclined
to sudden management shake-ups or boardroom rows. Cucchiani
himself has often said the bank's appeal is that it is "boring".
Messina, born in 1962, is a long time bank insider who was
also formerly chief financial officer.
"Messina is a natural successor to Cucchiani. With him, the
bank is in safe hands," said a senior Italian banker.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Jucca and Silvia Aloisi, Editing
by Lisa Jucca and David Gregorio)