25 May 2011

UBS: dramatic appeal by Chief Executive Gruebel

Oswald Gruebel's dramatic appeal to the staff of UBS's US investment banking staff demonstrates the difficulty of managing today's sprawling international banking businesses. Once an operation is - rightly or wrongly - under pressure due to difficult markets or competitive weaknesses it requires near-superhuman skills to put the ship on the right course again. Investment Banking, Securities Dealing and Investment Management are basically simple businesses when one looks at their basic constituents but as I always say: it is not brain surgery, but people - and companies - who want to succeed in these businesses need a blend of a lot of different skills and it is exactly this combination that is the challenge - especially when the 'assets' of the business walk out of the door every evening.

17 May 2011

Good Management must show Empathy

If reports are true that the UBS's chief of investment banking scolded his staff for behaving like spoiled children he may well have said the truth. But if the report is also true with respect to the reaction by staff it highlights one fact: it is not only what you say that counts, it is also important how you say it. Morale - especially in a people business like investment banking - is a fickle thing and it can easily evaporate and hole a company below the water line.

16 May 2011

Bank Austria pays for costly Kazakh mistake

We were concerned about the high price that BA paid for ATF Bank in 2007 and our worries about buying an emerging market bank were proven correct. Regulators in Almaty have asked BA to inject another Euro 198 million. The lesson should be clear: never buy such risky assets in a seller's market.

Not all firms can occupy top position

When a senior executive of UBS admits that the bank may no longer aim for the top spot in the rankings of global investment banks he puts the business on a more sensible and realistic footing.
Aiming for the top may be useful to encourage ambition but it can also be destructive if carried too far. Like in sport, there can only be one winner in business and being number 2, 3 or even 10 does not automatically brand you a failure.