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UniCredit's Mustier withdraws as candidate for top HSBC job

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Jean Pierre Mustier, the chief executive officer of UniCredit SpA, pulled out of the running to take the helm at HSBC Holdings plc, adding more uncertainty to the executive suite as the UK lender embarks on its third massive overhaul in a decade.

[MILAN] Jean Pierre Mustier, the chief executive officer of UniCredit SpA, pulled out of the running to take the helm at HSBC Holdings plc, adding more uncertainty to the executive suite as the UK lender embarks on its third massive overhaul in a decade.

Mr Mustier, who led a turnaround at Unicredit over the last four years, has decided to remain with the Italian lender, according to a person familiar with the situation. Mr Mustier informed HSBC chairman Mark Tucker of his plans Sunday, the Financial Times reported.

Mr Mustier had emerged as the main external contender for the role, unseating HSBC lifer and interim CEO Noel Quinn, who was the only internal candidate under consideration. Mr Mustier's rejection drags out the CEO search, which the bank has said could run as late as July, some 12 months after Mr Quinn was installed as interim leader.

The lack of clarity at the top is weighing on HSBC's shares, which fell for five straight sessions last week, and have dropped 7 per cent this year in Hong Kong. The stock traded little changed on Monday.

"HSBC's stock performance would continue to be weak as the bank's situation remains tough," said Alex Wong, the Hong-Kong based director of asset management at Ample Capital Ltd. "It's not easy to ask another CEO to join you as they are already performing in their current position."

Officials for HSBC and UniCredit declined to comment.

HSBC is going through the third strategic overhaul in a decade. Mr Tucker, who ousted former CEO John Flint last year after he failed to revive growth at the Asia-focused lender, has struggled to explain why a bank with such a stronghold in some of the world's fastest-growing economies has been unable to produce a better return.

Mr Quinn announced plans last week to cut as many as 35,000 jobs over three years at the London-based bank. HSBC intends to slash costs and staff at underperforming units in the US and Europe, while doubling down on Asia - a more profitable region, but one that is roiled with geopolitical tensions and the outbreak of the coronavirus.

"It's not a good time to join the bank, especially for an external candidate," Ronald Wan, CEO at Partners Capital International Ltd in Hong Kong, said by phone. "HSBC is going through a challenging operating environment - economic slowdown, the coronavirus outbreak, Brexit and the bank's new strategy will all make the CEO's job difficult."

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