Reuters
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Quiet man slips into SocGen top job
Fri, Apr 18 11:36 AM BST

By Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) - Frederic Oudea, the quiet and unassuming finance head at Societe Generale, has silently brushed aside his rivals to move into pole position at the French bank hit by the world's worst trading scandal.

SocGen (SOGN.PA) announced late on Thursday that Oudea, 44, would be promoted from deputy chief executive to become chief executive of France's second-biggest listed bank.

He will share control at first with Daniel Bouton, who gives up his post as chief executive while remaining chairman.

Bouton faced severe criticism over SocGen's 4.9 billion euro (3.9 billion pound) trading loss, which the bank said was caused by rogue deals conducted by Jerome Kerviel, one of its junior traders. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had questioned Bouton's handling of the affair and urged him to resign.

Many analysts said Oudea could end up taking control of the bank's strategy.

"Step by step, Bouton will hand over his position to Oudea," said Agilis Gestion fund manager Frederic Hamm, adding that Agilis was continuing to steer clear of banking shares due to ongoing problems over credit market losses.

At news conferences, Oudea had always taken a secondary role behind Bouton and Jean-Pierre Mustier, the 47-year-old head of SocGen's investment banking division who had long been considered as a likely successor to Bouton.

Mustier had a far higher profile than Oudea but his career has been tarnished by the Kerviel affair. Both Mustier and Bouton offered to resign following the scandal, but the bank asked them to stay on.

Oudea also has the advantage of being considerably younger than Philippe Citerne and Didier Alix, the other two directors who held the post of SocGen co-chief executives.

"X" FACTOR

Oudea was born in the 15th arrondissement of Paris on July 3, 1963. His father Paul was a professor of medicine while his mother had a research job.

Like many of SocGen's top management team, Oudea was educated at France's best schools and universities.

After attending the prestigious Louis-Le-Grand high school near the Sorbonne, he moved to Polytechnique engineering graduate school, a source of brainpower and exotic mathematical skills that made SocGen a world leader in complex derivatives.

Known simply as "X" after a mathematical variable, the elite Polytechnique has provided SocGen with many of the traders at its derivatives unit, formerly the crown jewel of the bank which was left reeling and humiliated by the Kerviel scandal.

The "X" nickname conveys a "nothing more to be said" level of confidence among France's rigorously trained elite -- but critics say the bank paid with staggering trading losses for a snobbish reliance on intellect at the expense of common sense.

After Polytechnique, Oudea furthered his orthodox training at the National Administration School. Its graduates, known as "Enarques", feature among many of France's presidents and business leaders, including SocGen chairman Bouton.

From 1987 to 1995, Oudea held various positions in the French senior civil service which included auditing roles at France's finance ministry.

In 1995, he joined SocGen and in 1996 he was appointed deputy head and then head of the bank's corporate banking arm in London. In 1998, he was in charge of the global supervisory and the development of the equities division.

In May 2002, he was named deputy chief financial officer and then moved onto become chief financial officer a year later.

Analysts said he was well regarded in his role as SocGen finance director.

"He was a good CFO," said an analyst at an investment bank who attended events where Oudea was present.

Married with four children, Oudea has wide interests.

As well as being a fan of tennis, football and skiing, he has a keen interest in 16th and 17th century Dutch and Flemish painting and likes collecting works of art.

His youngest son was born in January this year, in the middle of the Kerviel crisis.

"Poor man. His wife gave birth last Thursday and he's hardly had time to see his son," Bouton told Paris Match magazine.


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