April 3, 2019

Breakingviews: Larry Fink keeps succession options wide open

by Breakingviews.

Larry Fink turned BlackRock from an offshoot of private equity shop Blackstone to the world’s largest money manager, with $6 trillion of assets. At 66, it’s not unreasonable that he would be thinking about who succeeds him as chief executive. All that outsiders can see, though, is that he’s leaving his options wide open.

Fink recently engaged in some reshuffling among BlackRock’s senior leaders, a memo dated Tuesday shows. Responsibility for handling big institutional customers now goes to the group’s three regional bosses, Mark McCombe, Rachel Lord and Geraldine Buckingham. And McCombe will now become chief client officer overseeing the firm’s largest customers, which sounds like a potential springboard to one day becoming CEO.

Another move looks like an attempt to ensure BlackRock remains relevant. Big institutions are looking to private equity, credit, infrastructure and other alternative asset classes for higher returns. Alternatives account for only 2 percent of the group’s assets but generated 6 percent of basic fee income last year. So Fink has named Edwin Conway, who previously oversaw institutional clients, to head up the firm’s fledgling alternatives unit.

None of this answers the question of who follows Fink. And it’s not an idle question: Were a Democrat to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020’s elections, party loyalist Fink would probably be on the short list for Treasury secretary or another senior post.

For now it’s probably enough for BlackRock investors to know that there are several candidates. As well as McCombe’s elevation, in January the company promoted Mark Wiedman to head of international and corporate strategy. Others include Mark Wiseman, the former Canadian pension manager who runs active equities and serves as chairman of the alternatives unit, Chief Operating Officer Rob Goldstein and bond boss Richard Kushel. Having many potential successors increases the odds Fink can leave on his own terms.

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