Bank Leumi CEO Galia Maor was asked repeatedly over the last several years when she intended to retire. And she would always say something like, "As long as I can contribute, I'm here."
Maor's resignation announcement Sunday caught the bank's board by surprise. After 17 years as CEO, she seemed like an inseparable part of the bank. Many senior managers left over the years because they believed she wouldn't ever free up the top spot. Now it appears that she has quite a large pool of potential replacements. Leumi has not had such a long-serving CEO since the founding of the state. Maor undoubtedly set a national record.
Leumi chairman David Brodet said yesterday that Maor's replacement would have to be creative, optimistic and conservative. Maor was an optimistic and conservative figure.
That conservatism - and the bank's stability, particularly during the 2008 financial crisis - has won her praise, particularly as her bank's major competitor, Bank Hapoalim, was rocked by major losses and management upheaval. Even major mishaps, such as the embezzlement at Leumi Switzerland, didn't stick to her; she's been called the "Teflon woman."
So why is Maor leaving? In 2011, Leumi lost its place - yet again - as the country's largest bank to Hapoalim in terms of market cap. The gap between the banks is marginal, but what matters is the trend. In order to be top again, Leumi needs to become more efficient and take care of its loans portfolio; indeed, some of its biggest borrowers, including many leading companies, are in dire financial straits.
After 17 years of complete stability, upheaval is inevitable. But that may not be a bad thing.
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