* New chairman to build on German network
* Giuseppe Vita replaces former HVB boss Rampl
By Lisa Jucca
MILAN, May 13 (Reuters) - UniCredit’s newly-elected chairman Giuseppe Vita will seek to be a brige between Italian and German cultures in Italy’s biggest bank by assets as the lender attemps to turn the corner after a year of massive losses.
Sicilian-born Vita, 77, is a trained doctor who moved to Germany in the early 1960s thanks to a university scholarship. He had plans to move on to the United States, but chose instead to stay in the euro zone’s largest economy and spent four decades climbing up the ladder at pharmaceutical giant Schering.
A fluent German speaker who knows personally Chancellor Angela Merkel and throws in the odd German word in conversation, he brings with him a wealth of business and political contacts in Germany, UniCredit’s second home market after Italy.
Yet, his new role will prove a challenge for Vita, who admits having limited knowledge of the banking sector despite having chaired the boards of Italian investment bank Banca Leonardo as well as the Italian units of Deutsche Bank and insurer Allianz.
“I am not a banker and I do not think I will become one in three years. I can just manage my bank account,” Vita told reporters in his first news conference at UniCredit’s Milan headquarters on Saturday.
“But having lived across two great countries, Italy and Germany, I hope I can offer a contribution,” said, Vita, impeccably elegant in a grey suit and with a light-blue tie matching his eyes.
Vita, who has sat on numerous company boards in Italy and Germany, will retain his role as chairman of the supervisory board of media empire Axel Springer, publisher of German tabloid Bild, and that of board member of Italian publisher RCS Media Group.
Vita, appointed chairman at a shareholder meeting on Friday, replaces Dieter Rampl, who threw in the towel after clashing with key Italian investors on governance issues.
Rampl, the former head of HVB, had become chairman of UniCredit after former Chief Executive Alessandro Profumo took over the German bank in 2005, a mammoth cross-border operation that turned UniCredit into a truly European lender with a leading position in eastern Europe.
As UniCredit struggled in the subprime crisis Rampl initially survived the 2010 ousting of Profumo by disgruntled Italian shareholders.
Current UniCredit CEO Federico Ghizzoni, with whom Vita says there was immediately the right chemistry, has been steering the bank through the perils of the euro zone crisis through job cuts and capital strengthening. He is refocusing the bank on its core corporate and retail lending business.
Vita, who says he backs further political integration in the euro zone, declined to answer any specific questions on UniCredit strategy going forward, but pointed to an embarassing $2 billion trading loss that has hit revered U.S. bank giant JP Morgan as an example of what not to do.
“(UniCredit) must not be a speculative bank,” he said.