Thursday, December 21, 2006

BMO's Downe to Split Time Between Chicago & Toronto

Bloomberg, Doug Alexander, 21 December 2006

William Downe, Bank of Montreal's next chief executive officer, will split his time between Chicago and Toronto, becoming the first Canadian bank head in about 65 years to have a base on both sides of the U.S. border.

``Bill will spend his time where the business requires him to be,'' bank spokesman Paul Deegan said in an interview. ``Having lived and worked in the U.S. for many years, Bill had gained a first-hand perspective, which is obviously helpful.''

The base in two cities may signal Downe will focus on reviving U.S. profit when he takes over from Anthony Comper in March. Downe, currently the chief operating officer, has said he plans to expand Chicago-based Harris Bank by opening new branches and pursuing acquisitions in the U.S. Midwest.

Toronto-based Bank of Montreal had a C$115 million ($100 million) profit from its U.S. consumer bank in fiscal 2006. Profit from the U.S. unit has risen 4.5 percent over the past three years, lagging behind the 24 percent rise in profit from Canadian banking. Bank of Montreal's personal and commercial banking unit in Canada earned C$1 billion in 2006.

Downe, 54, was appointed on Nov. 28 to succeed Comper, 61, who is retiring as head of Canada's fourth-largest lender. Downe, a Montreal native, has divided his time between Chicago and Toronto since 1998, when he was named vice chairman of the bank. He was promoted to chief operating officer in February.

``The truth of the matter is he's sort of out of a suitcase quite a bit of the time,'' Deegan said. ``Even when he's in Canada he's traveling around the country. A typical week might be four days in Toronto, one day in Chicago.''

Downe, who joined Bank of Montreal in 1983 as a credit analyst, has lived and worked in Chicago for at least 14 years, after assignments in Houston and Denver. In 2001, he became head of the BMO Nesbitt Burns investment-banking arm. He assumed responsibility for all U.S. operations, including the Chicago- based Harris Bank unit, in September 2002.

Deegan said the dual residency is in keeping with banking rules. A Canadian bank CEO ``must be ordinarily resident in Canada,'' according to the Canadian Bank Act.

``Obviously, that does not preclude one from having more than one residence,'' Deegan said.

Downe is probably the first top executive of a Canadian bank to be based in both countries since World War II. In 1941, Royal Bank of Canada President Morris Wilson became chairman of the British Council in North America, responsible for the flow of war supplies to Britain. As a result, Wilson spent Mondays and Tuesdays at Royal Bank's former Montreal headquarters and the rest of the week in Washington or New York.

Downe's dual base isn't a concern for John Kinsey, who helps manage $800 million at Caldwell Securities Ltd. in Toronto, including Bank of Montreal shares.

``It would obviously be his choice to do what he's going to do, though I don't think it's easy living in two cities,'' Kinsey said.

The shares have risen 5.4 percent this year, the worst performance among Canada's six biggest banks.