LONDON • In its 154-year history, HSBC Holdings has never been run by an outsider. But the stunning ouster of Mr John Flint after just 18 months as chief executive suggests that precedent is now vulnerable.
Mr Richard Buxton, CEO of Merian Global Investors UK, which holds the bank's shares, said: "It is very unlike HSBC to do anything like this. It suggests they clearly will go externally for the next chief executive.
"Clearly, the board feels it needs a fresh pair of eyes."
Previous searches for HSBC CEOs have looked outside the bank but have always concluded that an insider is better.
However, with chairman Mark Tucker, the first outsider to hold that post, this time could be different.
Mr Tucker had been only recently installed when he picked Mr Flint to succeed Mr Stuart Gulliver, who had favoured the appointment of his protege to replace him.
Mr Noel Quinn, head of global commercial banking, will assume the CEO post on an interim basis, HSBC said, along with releasing its first-half earnings.
Conversations with current and former HSBC employees, who asked not to be named when discussing a sensitive matter, and analysts yield a range of outside and insider candidates.
•Noel Quinn: Regional head of commercial banking for Asia-Pacific for four years up to 2015, he has also worked at HSBC Insurance Services in North America. Mr Edward Firth, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods in London, said: "The glowing terms in which the chairman referred to interim CEO Noel Quinn suggest that it is his to lose."
•Ewen Stevenson: The former investment banker and Royal Bank of Scotland Group chief financial officer has been at HSBC since January but is already seen as a CEO-in-waiting. Mr Stevenson has instituted a companywide programme to rein in expenses and is known as a straight-talker who has developed a good relationship with Mr Tucker. Asked whether he would like the job this month, he swerved the question, but it is unlikely he would be averse to a promotion.
•Antonio Simoes: Previously head of UK and Europe, the Portuguese has run global private banking since January last year. He was once seen as a potential internal candidate to replace Mr Gulliver. He runs the smallest division at the bank but his experience could play in his favour.
•Charlie Nunn: Named CEO of retail banking and wealth management in January last year, succeeding Mr Flint. Mr Nunn has held a variety of senior roles at HSBC's biggest division by revenue since joining in 2011 from McKinsey & Company, where he was a senior partner. His lack of connection with the Asian market and his proximity to Mr Flint make him a long shot.
•Piyush Gupta: CEO of Singapore's DBS Group Holdings for almost a decade. A former Citigroup executive, Mr Gupta has the Asian experience required of any HSBC CEO and has been credited with turning DBS into a technology leader, an area where HSBC is considered something of a laggard. DBS spokesman Karen Ngui said: "Mr Gupta is happy at DBS and has no plans to leave."
•Antonio Horta-Osorio: Once seen as a potential candidate for HSBC before Mr Flint's appointment, the Portuguese executive has been CEO at Lloyds Banking Group for about eight years. Mr Horta-Osorio has been cutting expenses, targeting costs of around 40 per cent of its income at the end of next year. That would make it one of the most efficient European lenders and is in line with Mr Tucker's priorities. A spokesman for Lloyds declined to comment.