Top Banker Tidjane Thiam ‘astonished’ by Black janitor act at party

Current Affairs

Top Banker Tidjane Thiam ‘astonished’ by Black janitor act at party

Swiss bank Credit Suisse has apologised for a performance by a Black dancer as a janitor sweeping the floor at a party attended by its former CEO, Ivorian Tidjane Thiam.

Last November, Tidjane Thiam, then CEO of Credit Suisse, walked out of a party given by a colleague in Zurich after a Black dancer came onstage dressed as a janitor, reports the New York Times. The Ivorian banker later returned to the party, where he was the sole Black guest, only to be “astonished again” at the sight of friends of the host performing in Afro wigs.

For the NYT this was just one in a series of “painful incidents” during Thiam’s five years as the world’s only Black CEO of a major bank, and it came just three months before he was forced to resign his leadership of the bank.

“What’s clear is that Mr. Thiam never stopped being seen in Switzerland as someone who didn’t belong,” says the NYT.

Credit Suisse apologises

The British Labour MP Rushanara Ali told the UK’s Guardian newspaper that she was “shocked and appalled” by the news of the dancing act.

“At a time when racial division and intolerance is rising across US and the UK, it is vital that all our institutions, including the banking sector, play their part in stamping out racism and intolerance of all forms,” she said.

Credit Suisse told the Guardian that there was never any intention to cause offence at the party and it was “sorry for any offence caused”. A spokesperson told the Guardian that the bank “is strongly committed to equality, diversity and supporting all our employees”.

Double-digit growth under Thiam’s leadership 

Thiam was appointed CEO of Credit Suisse in March 2015 and subsequently turned round the fortunes of the ailing bank. He was forced to resign in the wake of a spying scandal of which he denied all knowledge. In his resignation speech he presented figures showing the bank’s wealth management business had expanded by double-digit figures for four years in a row under his leadership.

“Our restructuring was a success and our performance in 2019, the first year after this restructuring, illustrates how much the bank has changed since 2015,” he said.

“I would be curious to know if today [the Swiss] would finally have the honesty to recognise that seeing a Black man at the top of one of their most prestigious companies was unbearable,” Thiam’s sister Yamousso told the NYT.

For the full story of Tidjane Thiam’s ouster as CEO of Credit Suisse see Tidjane Thiam – Fall of a legend in our sister magazine African Banker.

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