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Standard Chartered’s Ferguson was contender for Abu Dhabi CEO role

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The former chief executive of Standard Chartered’s Americas operation, who first highlighted fears internally over the bank’s dealings with Iranian customers that resulted in a £415m fine from U.S. regulators, was on the cusp of being appointed as the new chief executive of the National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD), according to people familiar with the situation.

Alex Thursby, 53, the CEO of the international and institutional banking division of ANZ, was named as NBAD’s new CEO earlier this month, but there could have been a different face in the role.  According to recruitment sources in the Middle East, Standard Chartered’s Ray Ferguson, 50, was initially offered the job as CEO of NBAD in July last year, but the offer was rescinded when Standard Chartered hit the headlines for breaching U.S sanctions against Iran.

Ferguson has been CEO of Standard Chartered’s Singapore business since 2009, but led its Americas operation in 2006 when he sent an internal email warning of “catastrophic reputational damage” over the bank’s dealings with Iran. He was concerned with the bank’s slow reaction to regulator’s concerns over its dealings with Iran and the email was intended to spur it into a response.

The sources suggest that the board of NBAD allegedly had some concerns over the appointment, but Ferguson was also believed to be required at Standard Chartered to deal with the media and regulatory storm that emerged in the wake of the claims from the New York State Department of Financial Services that initially accused the bank of hiding billions of dollars worth of Iranian financial deals between 2001 and 2010.

Until Thursby’s appointment on 3 April, there had been fervent anticipation over who would replace Michael Tomalin, who has served as group CEO at NBAD for the past 14 years and is set to retire this year.

Ferguson, who also appointed CEO of Standard Chartered UAE in Dubai  in 2002, was by far the outstanding candidate, according to the recruitment sources. In the wake of the Iran case, NBAD was forced to go back to the drawing board.

Ferguson, who is British, has spent his life as a career expat banker in Asia, the Middle East and the US, and in 2010 appeared to be laying down roots by taking Singapore citizenship.

A spokesperson for Standard Chartered declined to comment. Ferguson could not be contacted for comment. NBAD’s spokesperson didn’t comment specifically on Ferguson, but said that the board “conducted an extensive global search process and met several outstanding candidates through the course of the search. We are delighted to have attracted someone of Alex Thursby’s calibre and relevant experience to the role.”

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