Michel Pébereau, France’s most influential banker, is retiring as chairman of BNP Paribas, the domestic bank he helped transform over two decades into one of the world’s biggest and most profitable.
Baudouin Prot, Mr Pébereau’s trusted lieutenant and chief executive, is expected to step up to the chairmanship. The 59-year old, who took over as chief executive from Mr Pébereau in 2003, has steered BNP through the financial crisis, from which it has emerged as one of the winners after avoiding sub-prime investments and acquiring Fortis, the Belgian bank, in 2009.
Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, 49, chief operating officer, who has presided over the integration of BNP’s last two big acquisitions — Fortis and BNL, the Italian bank — and long regarded as Mr Prot’s dauphin is likely to be appointed chief executive.
The proposed changes, which are likely to take place towards the end of this year or early next year, are expected to be announced to shareholders at the bank’s annual meeting on Wednesday.
BNP Paribas would not comment.
Mr Pébereau, who will be 70 next January, has been the man to whom French governments have turned, most recently in the financial crisis, when the discreet banker was one of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s regular visiteurs du soir — the unofficial advisers who help to shape policy.
The BNP boss was also asked by Thierry Breton, former finance minister, to report on ways to reduce France’s burgeoning national debt, which Mr Pébereau described in 2005 as “very worrying”.
With one of the longest entries in France’s Who’s Who, he is one of the emblematic products of a meritocratic educational system, which rewards its brightest with high-flying civil service stints followed by plum private sector jobs.
His soft-spoken manner belies a ruthless efficiency in targeting his goals.
Although he masterminded the merger of BNP, the state-owned bank he headed in 1993, and Paribas to create France’s biggest bank, he never managed to realise his dream of taking over rival Société Générale .
He also lost out on Crédit Lyonnais, the stricken French bank, in a bidding war that was won by Crédit Agricole, France’s biggest retail bank.
For at least the past decade, Mr Pébereau has worked closely with Mr Prot, who himself has overseen a significant expansion abroad. Mr Pébereau’s retirement will bring to an end what is regarded as one of France’s most successful management tandems.
Mr Pébereau will doubtless remain an influential business figure but those who know him suggest that he will also devote more of his free time to his unofficial job as science fiction critic for Journal du Dimanche, the Sunday paper and as an avid film buff, to his cinema interests.