One of the world’s leading investment banks has apologized to its Black former chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, for a racially insensitive incident during the 60th birthday party of its chairman, Urs Rohner. The bank said in a statement that it was “sorry for any offence caused.”
The New York Times reported on Monday that Thiam, who was at the helm of Credit Suisse for four years, walked out of the room when a Black performer dressed as a janitor danced on stage. The report said the Studio 54 themed party included Rohner’s friends performing a musical number wearing Afro wigs.
Thiam, 54 was ousted from the Swiss Bank in February this year following a spy scandal under his watch. His second-in-command admitted he had ordered the spying on employees although Thiam denied knowledge of the operations.
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The widely-read publication drew sharp criticism from UK Labour Party lawmaker Rushanara Ali. She told The Guardian that she was “shocked and appalled” by the report and called on institutions to do more to stamp out racism and intolerance of all forms.
Credit Suisse said it was committed to diversity adding that it has put in place some initiatives to improve ethnic diversity across the bank. It said it has signed UK’s Business in the Community race at work charter which requires firms to adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards racial harassment or bullying. In the US, it said it has a programme to hire, retain and advance black talent.
“Credit Suisse is strongly committed to equality, diversity and supporting all our employees,” the bank said. “Over the past year Credit Suisse has taken additional strides to show our commitment to under-represented groups within the firm, and is putting in place broader initiatives to further this,” the bank added: “As a company, we are proud to be a geographically and culturally diverse group, and we strive to further strengthen this culture, which supports all our colleagues.”
The Guardian reported that a friend of Thiam said he has not received a personal apology from the bank.
Thiam was the first black CEO of the Swiss Bank. He took over Credit Suisse when the bank at a time of trouble, according to the New York Times, but is credited with reviving the fortunes of the 164-year-old institution.
Thiam was born in the Ivory Coast and holds both Ivorian and French citizenship. He studied in France and worked at the World Bank before returning to Ivory Coast to serve as Minister of Planning and Development—until the government was ousted in a military coup. He later ran British financial services firms Aviva Europe and Prudential before joining Credit Suisse.
According to the Swiss website Finews, the incident that happened at the private birthday party is frequently dismissed as harmless fun in Switzerland.