* Closing in on CEO choice
* Aims to pick Mustier's successor by Feb. 10
* Orcel, Gallia strong contenders but issues remain
* Mediobanca CEO fits profile but unavailable
MILAN, Jan 18 (Reuters) - UniCredit is narrowing
down a field of candidates to replace departing Chief Executive
Jean Pierre Mustier, three people familiar with the matter said,
as Italy's second biggest bank tries to find a new boss by early
The French banker said on Nov. 30 he would step down by
mid-April due to disagreements with the board over strategy.
Mustier had been discussing with Rome a potential takeover
of state-owned Monte dei Paschi. He prioritised
returning cash to shareholders over M&A and had set strict terms
to consider an acquisition.
The choice of his successor will have implications for
UniCredit's stance on any potential Monte dei Paschi deal.
The bank is yet to decide whether to access confidential
data Monte dei Paschi is opening up to potential suitors this
week, a person with knowledge of the matter said.
UniCredit declined to comment.
The Milanese bank has hired consultant Spencer Stuart to
screen candidates and sources have said the bank wanted to have
a decision for when its board meets on Feb. 10 at the latest.
The people said UniCredit was poised to reduce the list of
names to just a handful in the coming days, and they added
Andrea Orcel and Fabio Gallia had both emerged so far as strong
Orcel, 57, is the former head of investment banking at UBS
which he left in 2018 to take the helm at Santander
before the Spanish bank withdrew its offer, prompting
the Italian to file a 112 million euro ($135 million) lawsuit.
Gallia, also 57, led the Italian arm of French bank BNP
Paribas until 2015 when he took the reins of Italy's
state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti. He is now general
manager at state-owned shipbuilder Fincantieri.
Orcel, previously also at Bank of America Merrill Lynch
, is backed by some of UniCredit's large institutional
investors as well as leading Italian shareholders including
eyewear magnate Leonardo Del Vecchio, one of the people said.
Del Vecchio leads a domestic shareholder group that opposes
the Monte dei Paschi deal.
UniCredit's international investors are concerned about the
new CEO pick after Mustier's sudden exit during Monte dei Paschi
talks fuelled speculation about political interference.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a top-30 UniCredit
investor told Reuters that after clashing with Mustier the board
could "lean towards a more malleable candidate so the most
likely outcome is that we get a relatively unknown Italian at
While international recognition works in Orcel's favour,
another source said his Santander lawsuit was a major issue,
alongside his track record in investment as opposed to
The source said Gallia, in this respect, had a more rounded
profile as a banker, but had been less exposed internationally
and was not well known outside of Italy.
After Mustier, whose background was in investment banking,
UniCredit wants a new boss with a similarly strong international
profile but also 360-degree banking skills and a more inclusive
leadership style, Chairman-elect Pier Carlo Padoan has said.
Mediobanca CEO Alberto Nagel may also have been a
good fit for the UniCredit job but two people familiar with the
matter said he had not made himself available when contacted by
($1 = 0.8282 euros)
(Additional reporting by Pamela Barbaglia and Simon Jessop in
London. Editing by Jane Merriman)