Unfilled for a Year: Possibly One of the Toughest CEO Jobs Around

iStock-534313789-compressorIt’s not unheard of for large, well-known companies to have difficulty finding a CEO, usually when they’re in trouble. Department store chain Sears had an interim CEO for three years while sales were plummeting. Banks damaged by the financial crisis often struggled to attract a star performer to wean them off government support.

In many of those incidences, though, the job came with a certain air of prestige, not to mention a multi-million-dollar-a-year compensation package.

But try finding a person to manage a large financial institution in dire straits for a salary capped at a few hundred thousand dollars. Oh, and for successful candidates, there’s also a decent risk they’ll find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

That appears to be the lowdown for anyone interested in heading up one of Greece’s beleaguered financial institutions.

The country’s biggest lender, Piraeus Bank, has been looking for a CEO since January of last year, according to company announcements. Its former leader, Anthimos Thomopolous, was put under investigation by local authorities over whether he acted in the bank’s best interests during a rescue share issue.

“The country’s biggest lender, Piraeus Bank, has been looking for a CEO since January of last year.

His unpleasant experience isn’t unique: Andreas Georgiou, the former head of Greece’s statistical authority, is facing 10 years in prison after being accused by authorities of inflating the national budget deficit in 2009. Greece is currently governed by the left-wing Syriza party.

U.S. hedge fund Paulson & Co. has been pushing for Thomopolous to be reinstated as CEO, though another major shareholder, the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund, wants someone else in charge.

The HFSF is a public rescue vehicle backed by loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. It has demanded that the new Piraeus Bank CEO have at least 10 years’ banking experience outside of Greece.

Ironically, though, the fund also needs a CEO itself, itself having been without a leader since July. Apparently, a new person offered the job in October quit a week later, while a subsequent interim replacement only lasted two months, Reuters reported on Monday. One former fund executive described the top job at HFSF, which offers a salary of €270,000 ($284,647.50), as a “poisoned chalice”.

For both entities, there is a ray of hope. In November, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras managed to convince Dimitri Papadimitriou to give up his job as head of the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College in New York state and become his new minister of economy and development.

The HFSF last week announced a renewed process to recruit a CEO via a government-appointed selection panel, with the final choice to be made by the Greek finance minister (should they have have anyone to choose from).

Any readers interested in the CEO position at Piraeus Bank should contact the recruitment consultancy EgonZehneder.

Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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