By Steve Slater
LONDON, Sept 22 (Reuters) - HSBC Holdings said its ChiefExecutive Michael Geoghegan had not threatened to resign unlesshe was appointed chairman, rejecting a report he had consideredquitting.
"It is nonsense that the group CEO threatened to resignunless he was appointed chairman," said Patrick McGuinness,spokesman for the bank. "The suggestion is offensive to Mike andto the company."
Geoghegan had threatened to leave after reacting badly whenhe was told at a meeting last week that the board was not readyto give him the chairmanship, the Financial Times said, quotingtwo people familiar with the bank's succession planning.
Europe's biggest bank is expected to decide at a boardmeeting in Shanghai next week on a replacement for ChairmanStephen Green, who is leaving to become Britain's trade andinvestment minister in January.
HSBC has a history of promoting its CEO to the chairmanship,and Geoghegan, who has been at the bank for 37 years, is seen asone of the two leading contenders for the job, alongside formerGoldman Sachs banker John Thornton, an HSBC non-executivedirector.
McGuinness said the board was working to finalise thesuccession plans and is on schedule to approve a successor bythe end of the year. He declined to comment further.
HSBC prides itself on its smooth succession planning but hasbeen accused in the past of ignoring best corporate practice.
When Green was promoted from CEO to chairman five years agoit angered many investors, who said it is hard for a former CEOto be objective about strategic decisions he or she had made.
A top 10 shareholder in HSBC said: "We would prefer anindependent non-executive chairman. However, we believe thereshould be more flexibility... where it is clear that seniormanagement needs to have a very firm grasp of the breadth ofactivity of what can be a very complex business.
"So from our point of view, if the board made a good case tous for a CEO becoming a chairman, we would listen and (be)willing to be receptive," the shareholder said.
HSBC has intensified its search for a new chairman sinceGreen announced on Sept. 7 he would leave.
Both Geoghegan and Thornton have a wealth of experience ofChina, and Asia more broadly, and an inside track on the complexand far-reaching financial services group.
Other leading names in the frame to succeed Green areinternal candidates, including Simon Robertson, anothernon-executive; Vincent Cheng, chairman of HSBC Bank (China); andDouglas Flint, finance director.
The search comes at a time of dramatic change at the top ofEuropean banks.
Lloyds and Unicredit this week began searches for new chiefexecutives after their long-standing CEOs quit, and Barclays has changed its chief executive. (Additional reporting by Cecilia Valente and Karolina Tagaris;Editing by Carol Bishopric and Mike Nesbit)