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One four all

How many CEOs does it take to change a lightbulb? Four, thinks Société
Générale. The French bank that saw almost £5bn wiped off its balance sheet in
January has just promoted its chief financial officer, Frédéric Oudea, to deputy
chief executive officer “alongside” (as the company statement puts it) two
co-CEOs, Didier Alix and Philippe Citerne. Above them is chairman and chief
executive Daniel Bouton.

SocGen hasn’t explained why Oudea was elevated, what he would be doing as
deputy CEO, nor why it needs four people at the level of CEO. “No comment” was
the response SocGen gave when we asked if Oudea is being groomed as the next top
dog CEO. With the Jérôme Kerviel scandal shaking the bank right to the very top,
it might be a case of ‘all hands to the pump’.

But Bouton’s mandate runs out in 2011 and Oudea’s promotion could be the
beginning of a succession plan.

Young and experienced
At 45 years old Oudea is by far the youngest of the quartet. Bouton is 58 this
year, co-CEOs Alix and Citerne are 62 and 59 respectively. But CFO Oudea’s CV is
not unlike that of his elders’: degrees from École Polytechnique and École
Nationale d’Administration and formative years spent at various finance and
budgetary functions of the French government, just like Bouton and Citerne.

Oudea clinched the CFO role in 2003 inside his first decade with the bank. it
might have been thought that SocGen’s recent revelations about its internal
control weaknesses wouldn’t have done Oudea’s prospects any good, but he did
orchestrate the hugely successful e5.5bn emergency rights issue made necessary
by Kerviel’s e4.9bn equity trading losses. So Oudea has seemingly proven his
worth.

But he has rivals. Citerne is one of the old guard having joined in 1979 and
knows the company inside out – he served as CEO for almost a decade until 2006,
downshifting to become a co-CEO serving Bouton. Alix managed branches of SocGen
nationally before becoming CEO of SocGen’s finance arm, Franfinance, in 1993 and
later CEO of SocGen’s French banking network’s retail business.

Oudea spent two years running SocGen’s corporate banking arm in London and
four years overseeing the supervision and development of its global equities
business. His mix of youth, experience and high breeding may be just the thing
to illuminate its path out of turmoil – but, for now, four heads are better than
one.

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