Rampl to be interim CEO at Unicredit

COLLEEN BARRY - AP Business Writer
Unicredit Bank Chairman Dieter Rampl, of Germany, gestures as he arrives at the Unicredit headquarters in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Sept.21, 2010. Unicredit has called a board meeting for today following complaints about Libya's increased stake in Italy's largest bank. Some politicians of the Northern League, which is a key ally in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government, have voiced concern about management decisions concerning the Libyans and have focused their criticism on CEO Alessandro Profumo.(AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
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Unicredit Bank Chairman Dieter Rampl, of Germany, gestures as he arrives at the Unicredit headquarters in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Sept.21, 2010. Unicredit has called a board meeting for today following complaints about Libya's increased stake in Italy's largest bank. Some politicians of the Northern League, which is a key ally in Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government, have voiced concern about management decisions concerning the Libyans and have focused their criticism on CEO Alessandro Profumo.

Unicredit chairman Dieter Rampl has been named interim CEO of Italy's largest bank following the boardroom ouster of Alessandro Profumo.

Unicredit said in a statement Wednesday that "the time is right for a change of leadership," without elaborating on the reasons for the move.

Profumo, who has led the bank and its predecessor for 13 years including a period of great expansion, submitted his resignation late Tuesday after losing shareholder confidence over the increase in Libya's stake in the bank.

The markets reacted to news of the midnight resignation badly. Unicredit stock shed 4 percent in Milan.

Analysts say the move signals a period of uncertainty for the bank. Rampl has been charged with finding a successor "in the coming weeks." The former head of Munich-based Bayerische Hyposvereinsbank joined Unicredit with the German bank's takeover in 2005.

Roberto Nicastro, deputy CEO, signaled continuity, telling reporters that the bank would go ahead with a Profumo-backed project to reorganize commercial banking in Italy, the news agency ANSA reported.

Profumo's position grew tenuous after the Libyan Investment Authority took a 2.6 percent stake in the bank this summer, on top of the Libyan Central Bank's nearly 5 percent share. Profumo said he did not seek the Libyan capital.

Nonetheless, a Unicredit Group foundation, which counts members of the right-wing Northern League party on the board, expressed reservations about Libya's growing role as a shareholder, bringing what has been for weeks a media-fueled confrontation to a boardroom showdown.

However, many analysts questioned whether the Libyan shareholding was the "Trojan horse," used to oust a banker who, by making the bank increasingly international, had asserted his independence from the Italian establishment.

La Repubblica called Profumo's "dismissal ... the defeat of a certain idea of free market, where everyone does his job: politicians make the rules, managers run the company, create value for the shareholders and stakeholders cash in earnings and dividends."

Profumo, 53, led Unicredit through an enormous expansion, moving eastward with the 2005 acquisition of Munich-based HVB and growing its Italian business with the purchase of Capitalia.

Increasingly, the bank's earnings came from abroad, largely due to low interest rates in Italy.

Unicredit in its statement thanked Profumo for "the excellent results achieved" during his tenure, including a jump in the bank's market capitalization from euro1.5 billion to euro37 billion.

However, the bank has not booked strong results for the last few years, and paid no dividend in 2008, weakening Profumo's hand with shareholders.