Despite the jostling that occurs near any position of power, it is still common for even the largest financial institutions to lack clear plans about what to do if a senior executive dies or falls ill suddenly.
Such is the case with Deutsche Bank AG. The German banking giant must find someone to succeed Edson Mitchell, who had headed its global markets and global equities divisions before his death in a plane crash Friday.
"No one really planned on needing to replace a healthy 47-year-old," a Deutsche Bank official said.
Mr. Mitchell had risen to a degree of influence that was unprecedented for an relatively new executive within the ranks of Deutsche, which expanded its reach as a corporate and investment bank in the United States with its acquisition last year of Bankers Trust Corp. However, the former Merrill Lynch & Co. executive was just beginning to hit his stride.
In June he had become a full member of the company's group board of managing directors, and he was expected to become the head of its investment banking operations by 2002, succeeding Josef Ackermann. Mr. Ackermann is expected to become the company's chief executive officer.
A Deutsche Bank representative in New York said the company has "no immediate plans for announcing a successor." An announcement may come in early February, when the company is to present a reorganization of which Mr. Mitchell was a key architect.
Consultants who work with banks on executive searches and management structures said putting contingency plans in place is too often not a front-burner issue for many bank directors.
"When things are going along fairly well, and chief executives are doing a great job, one thing that is pointed out is that at least 50%" of banking companies "lack a succession plan," said Ed Archer, a managing director at the executive compensation firm Pearl Meyer & Partners Inc. in New York.
But the need to suddenly appoint a new leader at a banking company is not without precedent, since the typical banking company CEO is between the ages of 55 and 65, an age group where heart attacks are not uncommon.
In September, Union Planters Corp. CEO Benjamin W. Rawlins died of a heart attack. The banking company announced that day that its president and chief operating officer, Al Kennebec, would succeed him.
Despite the widespread absence of contingency plans, one executive recruiter who works with banks said that the industry appears to be improving. However, "it's generally a bigger cause of worry at smaller institutions, where you tend to have less bench strength," said the executive, who spoke of the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Mitchell had joined Deutsche Bank in 1995 in London as its head of global markets. Then with colleague Michael Philipp, he became one of the first Americans to join Deutsche's influential managing board and was credited with encouraging the German company to adopt a more U.S.-style approach to organizing the investment bank.
He died after his plane, on its way from Portland, Maine, to his vacation home in Rangeley, crashed. The plane's only other occupant - the pilot - also died.
"The robust foundations and management structures he has laid in his field of responsibility and his visionary strategic contributions will continue to serve the bank in the future," said Deutsche head Dr. Rolf-E. Breuer.
A memorial service at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where Mr. Mitchell had earned a degree and served as trustee, was held Tuesday.
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