“Why are you doing this to yourself?” a friend asked Paul Achleitner more than ten years ago. “Look, then I finally have time to go sailing with you,” replied the now 65-year-old Austrian, who was CFO at the insurer Allianz at the time and was about to head the supervisory board of Deutsche Bank.
Achleitner now knows that he miscalculated. In many companies, managing the control committee may be moderately time-consuming, but at Deutsche Bank it required full commitment – especially in recent years.
Only recently did Achleitner actually get on board with his friend – six weeks before the end of his term.
But that’s not the only reason why the manager can take it easy. Deutsche Bank, which has seemed a hopeless crisis in recent years, has actually reached somewhat calmer waters. Last year it was able to report a profit in the billions again for the first time, and things looked even better in the first three months of 2022.
Things couldn’t be going better for Achleitner right now. He intends to resign at the bank’s general meeting on Thursday. Honorable. The bank has gone through years in which it was unclear whether he would even get a chance to leave voluntarily.
Nevertheless, he leaves his successor, the Dutchman Alexander Wynaendts, with a demanding task: Deutsche Bank is to grow again – primarily in stable business areas such as those with private and corporate customers. Most recently, she has mainly benefited from the boom in her investment banking. And that fluctuates with the markets like a straw in the wind.
That was lucky for Achleitner. The unexpected upswing confirmed the former Germany boss of the US investment bank Goldman Sachs in his view of how important it is to form a European counterweight to the dominant US companies in the capital market business.
In politically unstable times, it doesn’t matter where the financing of local companies comes from, there is a risk of dangerous dependencies. And dependencies, as the gas business with Russia has shown since the attack on Ukraine, make you vulnerable.
Achleitner often missed the recognition of the central role that the financial sector plays in the local economy, and with it Deutsche Bank in particular.
Especially in the phase in which the existence of the institute was at stake because of surprisingly high claims for damages in the USA, he lacked the backing – also personally. The critics identified him as the main person responsible for the decline of the bank, also because he had made personnel decisions that were due, such as the sacking of ex-CEO Anshu Jain, far too late.
They attacked him correspondingly violently. Large investors are said to have tried to sell Achleitner prematurely several times.
The Austrian often complained about these allegations in his circle of friends. Achleitner felt misunderstood and even treated unfairly. At times, the bank lost more than half of its stock market value under his leadership.
And when Achleitner then replaced the management staff, the impression that someone was haphazardly doctoring a seriously ailing patient was reinforced for a long time. Achleitner is now more relaxed.
Perhaps there would have been greater public understanding if the fundamental restructuring of the institute had been explained more clearly, he said in a small circle.
During the financial crisis, Deutsche Bank did not seek help and hesitated too long to adjust its business model. The then co-boss Jain wanted to expand investment banking instead of cutting costs and withdrawing from unprofitable businesses.
“You can’t blame Achleitner for everything,” says Klaus Nieding, Vice President of the German Association for the Protection of Securities (DSW). He inherited many construction sites. And for a few years now, things have finally been moving forward with the institute.
“This is primarily thanks to the CEO, Christian Sewing,” says Nieding. “But you also have to give credit to Achleitner. At the end of his tenure, he still got the curve.” It was he who made Sewing, who was largely unknown at the time, head of the company four years ago. Its shine also rubs off on Achleitner.
In the end, a mixed balance remains from the Achleitner era: Measured by the market capitalization of almost 20 billion euros, Deutsche Bank is a lightweight compared to the US banks.
In Europe, at least, she’s playing at the front again. In particular in the business with fixed-income securities, the bank leaves the European competition behind. For the time being, that’s enough for Achleitner’s claims.
Four years ago, Sewing replaced John Cryan, whom Achleitner had previously installed as head of the bank. In the eyes of many investors, the Briton was not a really convincing choice, and he said he had made little progress with the bank’s restructuring.
Achleitner still defends the personnel today. “Cryan was important for the phase of the bank,” he emphasizes again and again in small groups. The manager laid the foundation for later success. According to Nieding, however, Cryan lacked home power.
A problem that also threatens Wynaendt’s successor to Achleitner. “He’s not rooted in the culture of Deutsche Bank, which can be problematic,” says Nieding. “Achleitner, on the other hand, is firmly anchored in Deutschland-AG and has access to the highest political circles in Germany.
UnionInvestment fund manager Alexandra Annecke even doubts Wynaendts’ suitability: “He has never managed a large bank and is not yet sufficiently familiar with German corporate governance.” Above all, she is bothered by the number of his mandates and announces: ” We will not elect Mr. Wynaendts because of the accumulation of offices.”
Other investors see Wynaendts as a strong head of the supervisory board. An image shared by the Dutchman himself. There were initial doubts after he wrote in a first message that he wanted to support the board.
But in the meantime he has made it clear: the chairman of the supervisory board is the real boss of the company, the word “support” is just a translation error. To avoid such misunderstandings, Norbert Winkeljohann was appointed as his deputy – an Achleitner confidante.