BOSTON, May 1 (Reuters) - Asset manager AllianceBernstein on Monday fired longtime leader Peter Kraus and replaced him with a new chief executive and a new chairman, but offered little explanation for the unexpected change.
The firm, majority-owned by France's AXA SA, named JPMorgan Asset Management executive Seth Bernstein as its new CEO and Robert Zoellick, previously president of the World Bank and a former Goldman Sachs executive, as chairman.
Kraus, who held the CEO and chairman titles since 2008, was "terminated" from his job as CEO, according to a securities filing.
AllianceBernstein, with $497.9 billion in assets under management at the end of March, gave no hint of changes in the works when it reported earnings on Thursday.
A spokesman declined to comment on the reason for the changes. AllianceBernstein shares fell 2.4 percent to $22.35.
Kraus took over as CEO and chairman in 2008, just as the financial crisis gripped Wall Street. He helped shepherd the firm in the difficult years after the crisis, but it has not fully recovered.
AllianceBernstein's assets of $497.9 billion are well below the $800.4 billion it managed at the end of 2007. It is now dwarfed by companies with a stronger lineup of passive investment products such as BlackRock Inc, which ran $5.4 trillion at the end of March.
On a conference call on Monday morning, AXA Board Chairman Denis Duverne thanked Kraus for his service as CEO.
"After eight years, we decided it was time to put in new leadership," Duverne said during the call. Analysts pushed for more detail on the abrupt leadership change, but Duverne declined to say what, if anything, was lacking during Kraus' watch.
Kraus had given no indication of changes ahead. On a conference call after the company's earnings last week, he said: "We've focused for years on rebuilding our presence and regaining relevance with retail clients and are finally where we need to be with the breadth and performance of our offerings."
The filing also said that on Friday, an AXA unit removed nine directors from the AllianceBernstein board, including Kraus, and the next day named replacements to fill most of the seats on the board, which now has eight members.
Kraus has entered into a "cooperation agreement" with AllianceBernstein, under which he is entitled to termination benefits and salary, according to the filing.
Reporting by Ross Kerber and Tim McLaughlin; Editing by Bill Rigby