René Thomas modernised BNP and grew the business, appointing a young and extremely able top management team.
René Thomas (1929-2003) joined the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris (CNEP) in 1961. He was part of a new generation which took on the job of modernising the bank. When the merger which formed the Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) was finalised in June 1966, he was Head of the Paris branch network. In 1972, he was instrumental in setting up a new Central Department focusing on business development and servicing major companies, which he then headed for ten years.
In 1982 he was appointed Chairman and CEO of BNP. He remained at the head of BNP for twelve years, until 1993, being re-appointed twice. His banking experience enabled BNP to manage the fallout both from the 1982-1983 Latin American lending crisis and the Soviet Union economic crisis of 1992. Under his leadership, the bank also took steps to limit the risks associated with real estate business and avoided venturing into any unsound investments.
René Thomas developed the bank’s insurance business, setting up the Reinsurance specialist BNP Re and Life Assurance company Natio Vie, and pioneered the ‘bancassurance’ approach through cross-shareholdings between BNP and the major insurer UAP, which is today part of the AXA Group. This alliance enabled BNP, by now nationalised, to increase its capital base significantly. One of Thomas’ major ambitions – an alliance with Dresdner Bank that had been on the drawing board since 1988 when the two banks mutually exchanged a number of Board members – unfortunately proved to be less popular in France than in Germany.
During his tenure, René Thomas set a number of major objectives for BNP: modernising the bank through intensive development of Management Information Systems; improving the training of bank staff via the Louveciennes campus; bringing in a new generation of top management with an average age of around forty in order to ensure smooth succession; and ensuring the profitability of the bank through constant resource adjustments. René Thomas suggested Michel Pébereau as a successor to privatise the BNP en 1993.