HSBC CEO Noel Quinn Unexpectedly Steps Down

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
April 30, 2024Business News
HSBC CEO Noel Quinn Unexpectedly Steps Down
Noel Quinn, CEO, HSBC speaks onstage during The Bloomberg Transition Finance Action Forum at The Plaza Hotel in New York City on Sept. 19, 2023. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Bloomberg Philanthropies)

Noel Quinn, the chief executive of HSBC, is unexpectedly stepping down after just under five years in the role, as the bank reported better-than-expected profits.

“After an intense five years, it is now the right time for me to get a better balance between my personal and business life,” Mr. Quinn said.

The 62-year-old’s resignation comes as a surprise given Mr. Quinn’s financial results as a CEO, guiding the bank through the pandemic waters, reaching record-high profits last year.

During his tenure, Mr. Quinn downsized the bank’s underperforming branches, including its retail banking businesses in the United States, France, and Argentina, while slashing its Canadian subsidiary entirely—as the bank shifted the focus of its operations more to the Asian market. In total, 35,000 jobs were cut in the reorganization, saving the bank $4.4 billion a year.

The considerable trimming allowed the board to fend off the demands from top shareholder Ping An, a Chinese insurance company, to split off HSBC’s Asian business mainly focused in Hong Kong.

Under Mr. Quinn’s management, HSBC’s stock has risen 35 percent. On Tuesday, the bank reported pretax profits of $12.65 billion for the first quarter of 2024. Though these numbers were somewhat lower than last year’s, they exceeded the company’s own $12.6 billion forecast.

The bank also announced it will buy back $3 billion worth of shares in the coming months, which is 50 percent more than some analysts expected.

Hong Kong-central Plaza
Central Plaza (C-Top), AFP’s regional headquarters in Hong Kong, is seen on August 9, 2023. (Peter Parks / AFP via Getty Images)

Mr. Quinn said the time had come for him to “take a breather” and spend more time with his family.

“Doing this job, you have to give 100 percent, if not 120 percent of your energy, your mindset, your time to the role,” he said during a conference call with journalists. “You can keep doing that, but that doesn’t necessarily achieve the balance in life that I wanted.”

In a statement Tuesday, HSBC—Europe’s biggest lender, said that Mr. Quinn will stay in post until a new CEO is found to ensure a smooth and orderly transition.

He added: “I think it’s right for me but I also think it’s right for the bank. The next phase of the journey, continuing to grow and develop the business is a multi-year phase, and it’s right to hand that challenge, that opportunity on to the next leader.”

Though Chief Financial Officer Georges Elhedery, appointed in January 2023, is a likely candidate for the job, the bank said the position is open to internal and external candidates.

In 2022, Mr. Quinn said that Mr. Elhedery’s promotion to chief financial officer was part of the bank’s long-term succession planning. At the time, he said it was his ambition “to make sure there are no less than three and ideally four to five potential succession options that the board could consider within HSBC.”

Mr. Quinn began his banking career at the British Midland Bank in 1987, which HSBC bought in 1992. From 2015, he ran its global commercial banking business. In 2019, he was appointed as interim CEO when John Flint was ousted after just 18 months. In March 2020, his appointment was made permanent as the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting the worldwide economy.

Despite his success in the Hong Kong market, Mr. Quinn faced backlash from U.S. lawmakers after one of HSBC’s senior executives backed Hong Kong’s introduction of the national security law. HSBC came under fire again in 2023 when UK lawmakers found the bank complicit in suppressing human rights and proactive support of Beijing’s national security law in Hong Kong.

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