Deutsche Bank AG Chief Executive Officer Josef Ackermann abandoned a plan to become supervisory board chairman when he steps down as CEO in 2012, saying Europe's debt crisis commands too much of his time.
Deutsche Bank will instead nominate Paul Achleitner, the finance chief of insurer Allianz SE, the Frankfurt-based lender said in a statement today. Ackermann will step down as chief executive as planned in May, to be succeeded by Juergen Fitschen and Anshu Jain.
Ackermann, 63, Deutsche Bank's CEO for the last nine years, was set to replace Clemens Boersig as chairman in May, a change of guard that drew criticism when the bank announced the succession plan in July because it appeared to flout German corporate governance rules. Since then, Deutsche Bank shares have fallen 25 percent as Europe's debt crisis led regulators to order banks to boost capital to shield against market turmoil, and lenders agreed to share losses on Greek sovereign debt.
"I'm surprised," said Matthew Czepliewicz, an analyst at Collins Stewart Hawkpoint Plc in London. "He has been one of the best bank CEOs out there, so this isn't good for Deutsche Bank to lose him."
Ackermann, who led Deutsche Bank through the credit crunch of 2008 without a government bailout, has been at the center of the industry's response to the European debt crisis. He serves as chairman of the International Institute of Finance, a Washington-based group that represented banks and insurers in talks with European Union officials over the voluntary losses on Greek debt.
Ackermann becoming chairman would have made Deutsche Bank the first DAX Index member to seek an exemption to German corporate governance rules introduced in 2009 that call for a two-year grace period before a CEO can accept the role of supervisory board chairman. A clause in the 2009 rules grants an exception if the candidate has the support of shareholders controlling at least 25 percent of the voting rights.
Deutsche Bank had sought Ackermann's election to the post so that it would "continue to profit from his knowledge, experience and professional network," it said at the time.
"The extremely challenging conditions on the international financial markets and in the political-regulatory environment demand his full attention" as CEO, Deutsche Bank said of Ackermann in today's statement. "This does not allow enough scope for the many talks with individual shareholders necessary to implement the original plan."
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble welcomed Ackermann's decision to abandon his ambition to become chairman, Handelsblatt reported, citing an interview. A CEO shouldn't switch directly into the position of chairman under corporate governance guidelines, Schaeuble said, according to the newspaper.
"We welcome the decision from the shareholder perspective," said Markus Temme, a spokesman for Union Investment GmbH in an e-mailed response to questions today. Union Investment owns 0.64 percent of Deutsche Bank shares, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. "An immediate candidacy by Mr. Ackermann for the role of supervisory board chairman would have led to potential conflicts of interest and resulting reputation risks for Deutsche Bank," he said.
Ackermann, asked about the decision on the sidelines of a conference in Frankfurt, said: "Do I look like I'm sad and depressed? Probably not."
Former Goldman Executive
Achleitner, 55, born in Linz, Austria, is a former head of the German business of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. At Allianz, he oversaw the unwinding of cross-shareholdings between the insurer and Munich Re and the sale of stakes in companies including Dresdner Bank, announced in 2008. At Goldman, he helped advise Deutsche Bank on its $9 billion purchase of Bankers Trust Corp. in 1998.
Ackermann's decision came as Munich prosecutors began an investigation regarding the CEO's testimony in a civil suit over the 2002 demise of the late Leo Kirch's media group. Ackermann and other bank managers in May testified about a management board meeting on Jan. 29, 2002, as part of the lawsuit filed by Kirch. They were quizzed by judges over the wording from minutes of the board meeting, discussing a possible Kirch group restructuring.
Kirch, who died in July, claimed Deutsche Bank secretly planned to damage his reputation in an effort to exert pressure on him. Part of that plan, Kirch said, was an interview former Deutsche Bank CEO Rolf Breuer gave on Bloomberg Television in which the executive said "everything that you can read and hear" is that "the financial sector isn't prepared to provide further" loans or equity to Kirch. Within months, Kirch's group filed the country's biggest bankruptcy since World War II.
Along with Ackermann, Breuer and other officials who testified are being investigated, Deutsche Bank spokesman Detlev Rahmsdorf said in an interview today. Prosecutors searched Deutsche Bank offices as part of the case.
The lender filed a motion to have the three judges in the 2 billion-euro ($2.7 billion) civil case removed because of "possible illicit cooperation" with prosecutors, he said.
"We only learned about this last week and immediately filed to have the bench removed," Rahmsdorf said today, calling the criminal probe "baseless."
"There may be speculation that this has to do with the office raids," Michael Rohr, a banking analyst with Silvia Quandt Research GmbH, said. "The transition to Fitschen and Jain won't be affected. I see the naming of Achleitner as neutral."