(New throughout, adds background on conflict with board)
By Gianluca Semeraro
MILAN, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Italy’s largest retail bank Intesa Sanpaolo ousted CEO Enrico Cucchiani on Sunday, after he clashed with the powerful chairman of the lender’s supervisory board and several influential shareholders.
In a statement after a hastily convened meeting of its management and supervisory boards, the bank said Cucchiani would be replaced by his deputy Carlo Messina, who was already in charge of the retail network.
The bank gave no reason for Cucchiani’s abrupt departure. Insiders have told Reuters the manager attracted criticism within the bank for his solitary management style and his aversion to risking bank money on bailing out Italian companies.
Cucchiani, 63, had been appointed in November 2011 after long-standing Chief Executive Corrado Passera quit to join the government of then-premier Mario Monti.
His ousting comes at a time of deep political and economic malaise in Italy, which risks a government crisis after centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi pulled his ministers out of a coalition government.
Several sources with direct knowledge of the situation told Reuters last week that Cucchiani had fallen out with supervisory board chairman Giovanni Bazoli, an octogenarian banker and a well-known power broker in corporate Italy.
According to insiders, one sticking point was the handling of a 1.2 billion euro loan to Intesa Sanpaolo’s shareholder Carlo Tassara, which the bank handed out before Cucchiani’s time.
Intesa Sanpaolo’ boards had been due to meet on Tuesday, but they were brought forward to Sunday evening to decide on the fate of the CEO ahead of the market reopening.
Bazoli’s bid to force Cucchiani out was backed by his ally Giuseppe Guzzetti, the boss of a the Cariplo charitable foundation that is also Intesa’s No.2 shareholder, the sources said. Cariplo and other banking foundations, which also withdrew their backing to Cucchiani, have a combined stake of around 25 percent in Intesa Sanpaolo.
Cucchiani was formerly at the helm of the Italian unit of German insurance giant Allianz and is well respected internationally.
However, several Intesa insiders told Reuters he angered Bazoli and Guzzetti because of his opposition to so-called systemic deals, whereby a bank such as Intesa would ride to the rescue of struggling companies to keep them in Italian hands.
The management struggle at Intesa has coincided with a deal last week that strengthened the grip of Spain’s Telefonica over Telecom Italia, Italy’s biggest telecoms operator in which the bank is a key shareholder.
Telecom Italia’s boss Franco Bernabe may also leave this week, sources close to the situation said.
Cucchiani’s ouster marks a break from the past for Intesa, which likes to portray itself as a prudent lender not inclined to sudden management shake-ups or boardroom rows. Cucchiani himself has often said the bank’s appeal is that it is “boring”.
Messina, born in 1962, is a long time bank insider who was also formerly chief financial officer.
“Messina is a natural successor to Cucchiani. With him, the bank is in safe hands,” said a senior Italian banker. (Additional reporting by Lisa Jucca and Silvia Aloisi, Editing by Lisa Jucca and David Gregorio)