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BMO outgoing CEO Bill Downe (left) stands with incoming CEO Darryl White in Toronto on Friday April 7, 2017. Photo: Chris Young/The Globe and Mail. (Chris Young/Chris Young for The Globe and Mail)
BMO outgoing CEO Bill Downe (left) stands with incoming CEO Darryl White in Toronto on Friday April 7, 2017. Photo: Chris Young/The Globe and Mail. (Chris Young/Chris Young for The Globe and Mail)

BMO CEO Bill Downe passes torch to veteran investment banker Darryl White Add to ...

Bank of Montreal has triggered its succession plan, setting chief executive Bill Downe’s retirement date at the end of October and tapping 45-year-old Darryl White as heir to the top job.

The handover allows Mr. Downe to see the bank through its current fiscal year – which is also the bank’s 200th year in business. On Nov. 1, he will pass the reins to Mr. White, a polished and personable 23-year veteran at BMO, though Mr. Downe will stay on in an advisory role for a short time after that.

Mr. White has been squarely in line to take over the CEO’s role since last fall, when BMO shuffled its executive ranks, elevating him to chief operating officer. He has spent more than half his life working inside the bank, mostly as an investment banker in the capital-markets arm. And he worked closely with Mr. Downe as the current CEO guided the bank through a turbulent decade that included a financial crisis and recession.

Read more: New BMO chief Darryl White leaves deal-making past behind (for subscribers)

Now, as BMO looks to catch a digital wave that is reshaping banking once more, the two men will work side by side for the next seven months, setting a course for its next generation.

“You shouldn’t expect a change in our strategic priorities,” Mr. White said in an interview. “Naturally, some of [our businesses] will ebb and flow a little bit over time with market opportunity, but by and large, we’re quite happy with the mix. So no, I don’t think you should expect a drastic change in direction.”

At the bank’s annual meeting earlier this week, Mr. Downe gave no hint of the transition to come – he has, after all, fielded questions about succession planning for some time. But he said in an interview on Friday that he and Mr. White have “been working on very specific areas” inside the bank over the past six months.

“Bill has been exemplary, I think, in leadership,” Mr. White said.

After a decade in the CEO role, Mr. Downe is the elder statesman among the current chief executives at Canada’s five largest banks, and among the last of the top-level bankers who guided Canada’s banks through the 2007-08 financial crisis still in charge. But it is his efforts to deepen BMO’s talent pool – rather than its acquisitions or relative stability through global financial turmoil – that he believes has reshaped the bank under his watch. In a speech earlier this week, Mr. Downe said BMO has flagged “at least three qualified successors” for each key job.

“The bench strength, in my view, has really developed in the way that we hoped it would: Strong people in all of the corporate functions, in all of the business groups, across all geographies,” he said. “And as a consequence, the competitiveness of the bank has really been improved.”

Mr. White emerges as the new bench boss with a deep background in capital markets, hailing from Montreal, where he made his name as the investment banker to the city’s blue-chip public companies, such as Power Corp. and BCE Inc. He’s a fully bilingual Canadiens fan who plays hockey and golf, according to colleagues who know him.

Notably, Mr. White was also the lead banker on a 2005 initial public offering whereby Bill Morneau – who has since found a new role as federal Finance Minister – took Morneau Sobeco Income Fund public.

Mr. White eventually rose to be group head of BMO’s capital-markets business from 2014 to 2016. More recently, as COO, he has been responsible for personal and commercial banking, wealth management and marketing, and has a keen understanding of the bank’s U.S. arm, Chicago-based BMO Harris Bank.

“I think you should expect, over time, that our delivery to shareholders will increase out of the U.S. business,” Mr. White said, when asked about market opportunities over the medium term.

In a statement, BMO chairman Robert Prichard praised Mr. Downe for his attention to diversity and community giving, and also called Mr. White’s leadership “steadfast and successful at every juncture of his banking career.”

For the time being, as Canada’s economy grows sluggishly and investors wait for clearer signals about promised policy changes south of the border, analysts expect BMO will stick to its plan.

“While we wait to hear how Mr. White plans on moving BMO forward, we do not anticipate any material changes in strategy in the near term,” said John Aiken, an analyst at Barclays Capital Canada Inc., in a research note.

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