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Succession question left on table after CIBC shuffle

A Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) branch is seen in Toronto in this file photo.


Just weeks after his contract was renewed, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's chief executive officer is tweaking his management team and adding a woman to the bank's executive group.

Gerry McCaughey, who in May signed on for another four years as the head of CIBC, named wholesale banking head Richard Nesbitt as chief operating officer and appointed Laura Dottori-Attanasio chief risk officer, making her the first woman to join the bank's senior leadership team in two years.

The shuffle solidifies the bank's management team for the near future, but does little to answer Bay Street's questions about CIBC's succession plan. Some bank employees say privately they cannot tell who is being groomed to replace Mr. McCaughey, who has held the top job since 2005.

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The money has been on Mr. Nesbitt – who formerly ran the parent company of the Toronto Stock Exchange – to become CEO after he took the reins as head of wholesale banking in 2008 and was later given responsibility for CIBC's international, technology and operations units.

However, Mr. Nesbitt is no longer considered the sole front runner, and CIBC made it clear that his new title is not a promotion and should not be read as a signal that he is CEO-in-waiting.

The chief operating officer position does not give Mr. Nesbitt additional power but was granted "in recognition of the leadership role Richard has been playing at CIBC over the past two years and the increased responsibilities he was given during that time," Mr. McCaughey said in a statement.

Ms. Dottori-Attanasio's appointment is a major step for someone who is seen as a rising star on Bay Street. Before joining CIBC, she had been senior vice-president of risk management at National Bank of Canada, the country's sixth-largest bank, and has steadily increased her profile at CIBC since joining in 2009. Until recently she was the bank's head of global corporate credit, overseeing lending in the wholesale unit.

Ms. Dottori-Attanasio is the first woman to join the senior executive team at CIBC since Sonia Baxendale announced her departure in March, 2011. She had been running CIBC's Canadian retail bank since 2005, but left when it became clear she wasn't in line for the bank's CEO job.

Tom Woods, the previous risk officer, who is nearing retirement age, will become a vice-chairman alongside Jim Prentice.

The uncertainty surrounding CIBC's succession planning stems in part from questions about the bank's strategy. CIBC is largely a retail bank, with 69 per cent of its revenue coming from Canadian retail and commercial operations. This division faces headwinds as the housing market cools and households come to grips with their high debt levels, forcing the Big Six to look elsewhere for growth.

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Some of CIBC's rivals have clearer strategies for finding growth in a tough environment. Royal Bank of Canada has built a large global capital markets unit, Bank of Nova Scotia has sizable international retail and commercial operations and Toronto-Dominion Bank has a large footprint in U.S. consumer banking.

Though CIBC excelled in wholesale banking for many years, lately the division has suffered as the bank curtailed risk following the financial crisis. That move puts wealth management in the spotlight, and CIBC recently struck two acquisitions in the United States on this front.

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About the Author
Reporter and Streetwise columnist

Tim Kiladze is a business reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before crossing over to journalism, he worked in equity capital markets at National Bank Financial and in fixed-income sales and trading at RBC Dominion Securities. Tim graduated from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and also earned a Bachelor in Commerce in finance from McGill University. More


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