John Cryan

Riding With the King

cryan money source
John Cryan, the British banker hired to save Germany's Deutsche Bank, is nearly a year into what some think is an insurmountable task -- fixing a financial institution mired in high costs, low profits and unseen, costly legal risks.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    After taking the reins of Germany’s largest bank 10 months ago, John Cryan’s honeymoon is officially over. But while fear is spreading among shareholders, Mr. Cryan is forging ahead with his strategic plan to reposition the bank for sustainable profitability.

  • Facts


    • Deutsche Bank holds it annual general meeting of shareholders on May 19, after which Mr. Cryan will become the bank’s sole CEO.
    • Mr. Cryan became co-chief executive 10 months ago, together with Jürgen Fitschen, who is stepping down as co-CEO but will keep a part time role.
    • In the first three months of this year, investment banking revenue dropped 23 percent.
  • Audio


  • Pdf


Suddenly John Cryan looks serious.

“How many staff are still doing bond issuing?” he asks Mark Fedorcik, the head of Deutsche Bank’s bond department. “865. We’ve lost a hundred,” Fedorcik says.

His boss, the most powerful banker in Germany, furrows his brow. The facial expression seems to say: The way I see it, you could lose a few more.

It is Thursday morning in Deutsche Bank’s London trading room on Great Winchester Street. Mr. Cryan, Deutsche’s co-chief executive, has actually come here to improve the atmosphere. He chats and jokes with traders, talking with them about the deals they’re making.

But restructuring this battered German bank is no joking matter for Mr. Cryan.

In a few days’ time, after the May 19 annual shareholders’ meeting, the 55-year old British banker would be flying solo. It’s been 10 months since he took on the task of cleaning up Germany’s most powerful bank, which had fallen into a terribly weakened state. He’s given himself five years to pull off the rescue. That’s how long his contract at the bank is.

But the way things stand now, he may not even get a chance to extend it.


13 p52 Deutsche Bank's Share Price Woes-01


This is a desperately uncertain mission, with no guarantees of success, even if most people think he’s the right man for the job. Mr. Cryan is a brilliant analyst and a detail-obsessed reformer. As financial director, he brought UBS out of an existential crisis; as dealmaker he has advised many of the world’s biggest banks.

But given Deutsche Bank’s desperate condition, his latest challenge could turn out to be a mission impossible.

Mr. Cryan’s laundry list of worries reads like the biblical seven plagues – not enough capital, excessive costs, ballooning legal risks, tightening regulation, a wretched IT infrastructure, public boardroom squabbles, and not to be overlooked, a dramatic, worrisome fall in the bank’s share price – which continued after he signed up last summer.

As if that weren’t enough, now the markets are turning against the bank, and revenues are falling.

Is Mr. Cryan Deutsche Bank’s knight in shining armor? Or something more like its gravedigger?

Talk to the bank’s big shareholders right now, and you’ll hear a mixture of fear and bafflement. It can’t go on like this. But no one knows exactly what to do.

Is Mr. Cryan Deutsche Bank’s knight in shining armor? Or more like its gravedigger?

One thing is clear: The honeymoon is over. The euphoria that briefly seized investors, staff and media has disappeared. In its place, there is growing criticism of Mr. Cryan. They say he’s ice-cold, a bad communicator, too negative, and has no vision. Manager Magazine claimed he had “made enemies of numerous staff and investors, and annoyed major customers, all in record time.”

Handelsblatt wanted a closer look, so with Mr. Cryan’s permission, we accompanied him for an entire week. The journey took us through the entire Deutsche Bank empire, from Singapore to London to Frankfurt. It was an intimate journey with Mr. Cryan: A man who wants to rebuild a bank brought low by his predecessors. He is attacking his job with an obsessive eye for detail, and little regard for himself.

The Anti-Anshu

It is 9.37 a.m. on Sunday in Singapore, at the beginning of our journey.

Not much is happening at Club 55 restaurant on the 55th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with its spectacular views of the western Indonesian archipelago. A beaming John Cryan welcomes us to his table. He is a small, compact man, his bald head covered with freckles. He has the pale skin of a workaholic and a frequent flyer, but today he is wearing the Sunday morning outfit of a cheerful English gentleman — pastel-blue pants, pink shirt, and leather, slip-on shoes.

He has a cold, he says. Normally he’s very healthy, but he must have picked it up on one of the six overnight flights he’s been on in the last 10 days. Mr. Cryan is in the middle of a business marathon: A flight to Silicon Valley, then on to Washington; a quick stop in London, then to Frankfurt for a management board meeting; and an appointment with the European Central Bank. Then three days later, it’s off to Beijing for a first-time visit to the local Deutsche Bank subsidiary, meeting major clients. And then finally to Singapore.

If he’s under strain, it doesn’t show. In conversation, his eyes have a clever glint. He is smooth and easy in small talk. He likes to be in Singapore, he says. He and his wife Mary used to live in the city when he worked for Temasek, the Singapore state investment fund. But wasn’t he the head of Temasek Europe, why did he live in Singapore?

The answer reveals—after just five minutes—an openness typical of Mr. Cryan, but highly untypical for a senior bank executive. “That was just a title. Actually, I didn’t really do that much for Temasek in Europe. I was mostly in Singapore working on the risk system,” he says.


john cryan source mary cryan
John Cryan, the Deutsche Bank CEO, posing on a Harley Davidson as a gag for his wife. Source: Mary Cryan


As an Englishman, he learned politeness with his mother’s milk, but Mr. Cryan is not guarded and always speaks openly. Many people admire that in him, but some have been known to take offense.

After unexpectedly taking on the job as co-chief executive at Deutsche Bank last July, as successor to his hapless predecessor, Anshu Jain, Mr. Cryan began a merciless autopsy of his German financial patient. His targets ranged from “lousy IT” to excessive bonuses. “John carries the weight of the world around with him. Inside of a few minutes he can give you 20 different disaster scenarios for the bank,” said a former close colleague from his time at UBS.

Another ex-colleague puts it like this: Mr. Jain had an “almost North Korean mentality. No one would dare to criticize him or the bank. That made a kind of artificial bubble. Cryan popped that bubble. He is the anti-Anshu.”

For Mr. Cryan, a key moment came last year with the $2.5 billion fine imposed on the bank for its role in the Libor interest-rate manipulation scandal, when some of its employees participated in a global conspiracy to fix rates, and according to U.S. and British regulators, the bank tried to hinder their probes. As a member of Deutsche Bank’s board of directors, Mr. Cryan tuned in to the bank’s conference call with hundreds of executives, which takes place after it releases quarterly results.

That day, he listened to Mr. Jain and other top managers present the financial figures in glowing terms. No one said a word about the massive fines connected to the Libor rate-manipulation case, fines that had been substantially increased because of the bank’s non-cooperation.

This marked a turning point in relations between Deutsche Bank’s top managers and its supervisory board, the top policy setting panel that hires and fires the CEO and sets major policy and included Mr. Cryan. Opinion hardened among the supervisors in the weeks leading up to the fateful 2015 shareholders meeting during which Mr. Jain was unceremoniously jettisoned. A new leadership style was urgently needed, the top overseers thought, as well as a more credible communication style.

And Deutsche Bank’s top overseers certainly got what they were looking for.

Mr. Cryan became Mr. Jain’s successor, going on to surprise observers with his blunt, painful honesty about the bank’s failures and deficiencies. “Staff have got to regain the belief that management are making decisions based on a realistic view of the world,” he said at the time.

Among the 100,000 people working for Deutsche Bank worldwide, this was refreshingly honest after three years of Mr. Jain and his co-chief executive, Jürgen Fitschen. But after Mr. Cryan arrived, and the bad news just kept on coming, disillusionment set in. Those working at Deutsche Bank, a self-confident bunch, had not been expecting such a merciless analysis from their new boss.

“Clarity and a no-bullshit mentality are great characteristics in a banker. But in a CEO, not so much,” said one London analyst.

But perhaps it’s exactly what someone like Mr. Cryan needs on his urgent clean-up operation.

“Honesty doesn’t mean you have to say everything that you think,” was the wise observation of the late Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. “Honesty just means that you don’t say anything you don’t actually think.”

This is not a distinction which Mr. Cryan, the independent spirit and cool-minded analyst, has always seemed to grasp. But he is learning — and is trying hard to stay positive, to be a better motivator both inside and outside the bank.

“The best thing about the bank is its staff,” he now says. Coming from this otherwise 100 percent authentic executive, the observation sounds a little, well, practiced.

A Man for All Customers

A day later at 8 a.m. on Monday we are back in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel on its roof terrace high above Singapore.

This time Mr. Cryan is meeting Gunit Chadha, the chief executive of Deutsche Bank’s Asia Pacific region, in a restaurant beside a spectacular swimming pool. Somewhat brusquely, Mr. Cryan asks if it’s really necessary to meet in these lavish surroundings, rather than at the Singapore office.


john cryan main image source mario andreya [M] N. Janitzki HB
John Cryan is credited with turning around Switzerland’s UBS. He’s now facing an even tougher task at Deutsche Bank. Source: Mario Andreya [M] N. Janitzki HB


For a moment, we catch a glimpse of “Mr. Grumpy,” the name given to Mr. Cryan by British investment bankers. A name that goes well with his furrowed brows and sad-dog eyes.

The mood between the sometimes grouchy Mr. Cryan and his troops worldwide has been strained for a while now. It’s not just Mr. Cryan’s chronically pessimistic mien. He is also accused of neglecting contact with customers during his first months in office. In August, when he came to Singapore for the first time, top bankers in the region were disappointed. Deutsche Bank’s new front man didn’t bother to make nice with the island nation’s valuable customers, but “wasted his time” on internal meetings instead, went the complaint.

Mr. Cryan is a consultant to the core. A customer man who seems to ignore customers. It’s one of his many contradictions.

Earlier in his career, he was regarded as one of the best advisors in European banking. Someone trusted by senior executives when things got serious, with mergers and acquisitions. “He is level-headed and sticks to the facts. That’s why he was always a pleasure to meet with,” said Nikolaus von Bomhard, chief executive of Munich Re, who knows Mr. Cryan from his years in Munich.

It was actually a coincidence that Mr. Cryan became a banker. He was born into a middle-class family in Sunderland, a tough working-class city in the northeast of England. His mother died when he was a child. He went to Cambridge to study physics, where Stephen Hawking was one of his professors.

After graduating, Mr. Cryan wasn’t sure what to do. He thought about pursuing a PhD. But his father, a jazz musician in the legendary London club Ronny Scott’s, had died while Mr. Cryan was a student. So he needed money. After a short spell as an auditor, he joined the British investment bank SG Warburg.

At Warburg, Mr. Cryan made quick progress, helped by four character traits: His ability to listen, his direct manner, his modesty and his enormous capacity for work.

“The art of banking is above all about listening to what customers want, instead of always wanting to speak.”

John Cryan, CEO, Deutsche Bank

Over the years, Mr. Cryan has perfected the art of giving complete attention to whomever he is speaking with.

“The art of banking is above all about listening to what customers want, instead of always wanting to speak,” he says. Human beings have two ears and only one mouth, he adds: They should use them in that proportion. Mr. Cryan never gets loud, and he always seems inconspicuous — another huge contrast with his predecessors.

Despite the low-key approach, unsparing honesty has always been part of his ethos.

One story is legendary among former colleagues. It goes back to shortly before the financial crisis, when Mr. Cryan was working in UBS’s London office. There, he tried to warn Fred Goodwin, then head of the Royal Bank of Scotland, against acquiring the Dutch bank ABN Amro, even though Mr. Cryan was an ABN advisor and he should have been driving up the price, it might be argued.

Mr. Goodwin ignored the warning, ultimately buying ABN for a record price. Then it turned out ABN’s balance sheet was loaded with toxic assets. The British state had to bail out RBS, and Mr. Goodwin’s reputation as a banker was ruined.

Mr. Cryan’s approach was formed by the corporate culture at SG Warburg, an institution which, for an investment bank, tends to take an unusually long-term view. His time there also affected his unpretentious appearance. Thanks to his own career and his marriage to a member of the Dupont dynasty, Mr. Cryan has few money worries.

He has never gone looking for a higher bonus or a promotion: He is driven by intellectual curiosity above all.

Colleagues say Mr. Cryan sometimes likes to travel by subway to his London home, in a Victorian suburb near Holland Park.

In Frankfurt, he has been known to walk to meetings, and on longer business trips, prefers to travel without an entourage. At the airport in Singapore, he fends off attempts by the ground crew to take his briefcase and battered leather suitcase. He prefers to carry them himself. His predecessors, Mr. Jain and Josef Ackermann, the Swiss banker who led Deutsche Bank from 2002 to 2012, mostly went by private jet. That kind of ride cost at least €5,750 ($6,550) per hour.

Mr. Cryan prefers scheduled commercial flights, although he does travel first class.

His one great luxury is a house in Annapolis, Maryland, his American wife’s hometown. Their residence there, overlooking the Severn river, was bought years ago and is being renovated in an early nineteenth century style.

Mr. Cryan’s idea of proper customer service includes an almost cult-like work ethic. “He really celebrates that,” says one former colleague from his UBS days. “Other managers can drink their colleagues under the table. He can work them under the table.” On that Monday in Singapore, for example, his last telephone call finished shortly after midnight, after a day packed with countless meetings with customers.

This dedicated customers’ man probably never dreamed he would be criticized for neglecting customers. Some have even taken their business elsewhere, say sources in the bank.

“Is that true, Mr. Cryan?”

“Yes, the accusation is justified. During my first six months, I didn’t meet enough customers, anywhere in the world,” he admitted.

“And why was that?”

“There were just too many pressing issues with regulation that we had to deal with. But in the meantime I’ve gotten back to working much more intensively with our customers,” he added.

This was very clear in Singapore. The contrast with his August trip could hardly have been sharper.


cryan and fischer jörg eigendorf
Daniel Schäfer, right, the head of Handelsblatt’s finance section, spent a week with the Deutsche Bank CEO, John Cryan, left, in April and May in Singapore, London and Frankfurt. Source: Jörg Eigendorf / Deutsche Bank


At two in the afternoon on that Monday, Mr. Cryan was at the door of a dining room on the 62nd floor of the Tower Club, among the city’s most exclusive clubs. The setting was pompous — marble floors, columns and elevator doors painted gold, glass chandeliers, Chinese vases, impressionist paintings. Hidden loudspeakers played Chinese piano music as Mr. Cryan, smiling, shook hands with the local bosses of European companies.

Beforehand, at lunch, it was all about Deutsche Bank itself. Months of cost-cutting announcements, as well as Mr. Cryan’s absence, had worried some customers. They feared the German bank, like some of its British competitors, may pull out of the region altogether. The plunge in the bank’s share price prompted some to ask nervously about its risk profile.

Mr. Cryan lavished British charm on the bank’s customers in Singapore. The message was simple: The bank was staying in Asia, and the drop in the share price was exaggerated. And he was personally there for them.

Mr. Chadha, Deutsche’s boss in the Asia Pacific region, is visibly pleased with Mr. Cryan. He has eased the minds of Asian customers. But not all his staff yet feel the same way.

A Man Misunderstood

It is Tuesday afternoon, 2.30 p.m., in downtown Singapore.

After a series of meetings with wealthy private customers, Mr. Cryan returns to Singapore’s financial district, to One Raffle Square, the local headquarters of Deutsche Bank. The bank has invited its staff to a “town hall meeting.”

Here in Singapore, the 300 available seats in the almost windowless 17th floor room are completely occupied 15 minutes before the meeting is to begin. Across Asia, in 23 locations from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur, several thousand staff are watching the event on a live video stream. The bank’s massive losses, the collapse in its share price, the loss of market share — staff badly need to hear some encouraging words from their senior-most manager. “Great progress has been made in the past 10 months. But most employees don’t see that. John has to explain the progress,” said a local employee representative.

He is not a micromanager, he keeps a sense of the bigger picture, and he doesn’t tell his department heads in detail what they have to do.

Mr. Cryan still looks exhausted when he sits down at one of the podium’s three leather armchairs. At the start of the meeting, he seems to have turned back into Mr. Grumpy: There’s a grim expression and a grunted “Hello.” But then, as so often, he flicks a switch and is transformed: He goes from cantankerous to funny, charming, even roguish.

A lot of people at the back have the good fortune not to be able to see him, he says with a grin, winning a laugh from the room. But as Mr. Chadha begins to ask questions, his discomfort is visible in his fists, which are pressed hard together.

As always, his analysis is accurate. With an impressive command of detail, he speaks about the consequences of strict regulation, dissects the bank’s many legal troubles, and explains the much-needed modernization of the bank’s IT systems.

It is Mr. Cryan, the in-depth guy.

If Mr. Ackermann was presidential, even authoritarian, and Mr. Jain drove his troops but couldn’t help interfering, Mr. Cryan is above all a knowledge-driven manager. He has a head for detail but not a presidential air. He comes across as serious and well-briefed, not someone dancing around his responsibilities. And he has an astonishing appetite for knowledge: He once learned 100 Latin names for trees, simply out of curiosity.

For all this thirst for knowledge, somehow Mr. Cryan manages not to get tangled up in detail.

Back in February, when financial markets started to worry about the bank’s stability and its share price plummeted, he kept a cool head. But he did not manage to calm his anxious colleagues on the executive team.

“He is not a micromanager; he keeps a sense of the bigger picture; and he doesn’t tell his department heads in detail what they have to do,” said one colleague, who declined to be named. “He’s a technocrat, very numbers-oriented. For a banker, that’s okay, but as a CEO, you also have to know how to motivate people,” says another, who knows Mr. Cryan well.

Mr. Cryan’s diary is packed. A lot of the time, he literally doesn’t have time for empathy.

The same is true of his dealings with his senior management team. Back in February, when financial markets started to worry about the bank’s stability and its share price plummeted, he kept a cool head. But he did not manage to calm his anxious colleagues on the executive team. The whole period was a communications disaster, internally and externally.

The Reticent Renaissance Man

It is now Tuesday evening, at 11.45 p.m and the end of another long day. We are in a car, on our way to Singapore airport.

Mr. Cryan is asked a question about his childhood.

“My childhood? Who would want to read about that?” he answers. It was deadly boring, he says. He spent every evening and weekend doing schoolwork. Not an answer you would expect from someone brought up by a jazz musician single father.

Mr. Cryan inherited his father’s love of music.

He is a patron of the London Gabrieli Consort & Players, an ensemble of baroque musicians who play original instruments. That might be dismissed as the ostentatious charity of a senior executive. But Mr. Cryan has often been known to invite the musicians for pizza after performances, staying late to chat with them about their music.

Mr. Cryan has kept his capacity for childlike enthusiasm. In the airplane from Singapore to London, he tells how, years ago, he earned a pilot’s license, purely out of curiosity. He’s short of practice, so at the moment the license is not valid. But in August, the Lufthansa boss Carsten Spohr invited him to fly an A380 in a flight simulator.

Mr. Cryan has an insatiable love of learning, and is fascinated by innovation and technology. His eyes light up when he speaks of a professor who wants to upload the contents of his brain into a robot. He has a lot of knowledge, and uses it to draw the right conclusions. But the question remains: Can he transmit that knowledge to his executive team?

“Staff have got to regain the belief that management are making decisions based on a realistic view of the world.”

John Cryan, CEO, Deutsche Bank

Captain, My Captain

It is 8 a.m. on Thursday in London, in the second floor of Deutsche Bank’s U.K. office on Great Winchester Street.

Having arrived from Singapore some 24 hours earlier, Mr. Cryan heads off to Deutsche Bank’s busy bond-trading floor to chat with colleagues. Several hundred traders sit before walls of flashing computer screens. Once heralded as one of the world’s most active trading floors, it was long a source of pride at Deutsche Bank – until it pushed the bank to the brink of a meltdown.

It is this tainted past – which not so long ago was celebrated as Deutsche’s Golden Age – that makes Mr. Cryan’s task today so unappreciated.

Those were the days of Josef Ackermann. The Swiss banker and former chief executive had picked up where his predecessors left off and ruthlessly stripped an honest, solid financial institution down to its bare profit motives.

Their strategy seemed to be working, especially in 2007 when Deutsche Bank posted record profits of €6.5 billion. Anshu Jain – Mr. Ackermann’s protégé – was right there to help perfect the London trading floor into a moneymaking machine. “Anshu’s Army” was largely responsible for doubling, tripling and quadrupling Deutsche Bank’s profits within just a few years.

Nine years later, the bank’s record profits had been transformed into record losses. In hindsight, it is clear that this was no Golden Age, but rather an age of excess, unbridled greed and profit lust. It was a period in which the bank made hardly any investments, at the cost of its future. It was a time of lax controls, in which the bank and its bankers abandoned all moderation.

Mr. Ackermann was right about one thing. Mr. Jain, a rock star among bankers, was the wrong person to entrust with setting a new course. But he was no longer able to prevent the ascent of his former apprentice to chief executive. The genie could not be forced back into his bottle – until incensed investors withdrew their trust in Mr. Jain in 2015, after only three years at the helm.

Too many scandals had devoured too many billions of euros. His promises of a return to the Golden Age eventually rang hollow.

Then it was up to Mr. Cryan to pick up the pieces. It was his unenviable responsibility to lay off 9,000 employees, close shop in 10 countries, slash bonuses and erect more robust controls against illegal activities. The bank slammed the brakes on spending so hard that Chief Financial Officer Marcus Schenck recently wanted to forbid the purchase of expensive grape juice from executive board meetings.

But that was too much for even his hyper cost-sensitive boss.

One of Mr. Cryan’s most precarious moves was to transform his predecessor’s mad money machine into something healthier and more sustainable. Immediately after taking the reins, Mr. Cryan said the bank could no longer afford such cost-intensive luxury.

But how deep can one cut before jeopardizing an entire business model? In the first three months of this year, investment banking revenue dropped 23 percent. While competitors suffered similar setbacks, Mr. Cryan knows that his restructuring program is costing Deutsche Bank valuable market share.

Walking the London trading floor, Mr. Cryan shares his moral support. He is jovial, jokes with traders, asks many questions and offers to help one banker close a deal by placing a call to Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan.

A Banker of Hidden Talents

It is a spring evening around 7 p.m. in Frankfurt-am-Main, where Deutsche Bank is headquartered.

Several hundred customers of Deutsche Bank’s payment solutions business are romping about a restaurant at Frankfurt’s Old Opera House. The business unit is one of the pearls of the bank, like asset management, that Mr. Cryan wants to polish. There’s a fancy flying buffet, a tasting of Scottish whisky and – for a German touch – grilled sausages.


Cryan Jiri Rezac for Handelsblatt London April
John Cryan at Deutsche Bank’s London headquarters. Source: Jiri Rezac for Handelsblatt


Later, a magician, Simon Pierro, will enchant attendees and awaken in John Cryan his famous child-like curiosity once again.

But Deutsche Bank’s boss takes the stage first, unveiling an unsuspected talent as a storyteller. Although he read the prepared remarks written by a new speechwriter, Mr. Cryan doesn’t look at them once on stage. Instead, he entertains guests with his own witty words.

He speaks of the bank’s history, of its digitalization and of a recent visit to Silicon Valley, where he met with very peculiar men in nylon shorts. Then the punchline: But at least they kept their shorts on! Laughter fills the room.

Buried amid the jokes, Mr. Cryan delivers an important message: Deutsche Bank is alive and well, with “way too much cash” that it would love nothing more than to loan to businesses in need.

These are the moments when Mr. Cryan feels most at home in Germany, speaking with clients in international surroundings. Where he remains an outsider, however, is among Germany’s political, social and media elite, and even among the many executives of Germany’s DAX companies.

But that’s only because Germany’s most powerful banker has other priorities at the moment.

Although not his mother tongue, Mr. Cryan has spoken good German ever since love lured him to Munich 28 years ago. The relationship didn’t last long, but Mr. Cryan’s affair with Germany was just getting started. It was in those first few years that he met Paul Achleitner, the chairman of Deutsche Bank’s supervisory board.

Shortly after Mr. Cryan became the bank’s chief executive last year, he and his wife Mary, who spends about half her time in Germany, moved into a Frankfurt flat owned by the bank. But he hardly has time for socializing. Most of his days, and many of his nights, are spent on the 31st, 32nd and 33rd floors of Deutsch Bank’s Tower A.

He greets clients and colleagues mostly in Mr. Jain’s old office.

Germany is not especially inspiring for the worldly banker. Places such as Silicon Valley are more his thing. But he does take special interest in Berlin, where Deutsche Bank has an innovation incubator, and in Munich, where Mr. Cryan is excited about BMW’s development center for electric vehicles.


118 Deutsche Bank - Neu 2016-05-13-01


Frankfurt? Not so much.

The banker does not feel very comfortable attending the corporate events – many held in Frankfurt – that most German employees feel obligated to attend. He even skipped the inauguration of Hans-Walter Peters as new head of the Association of German Banks, though it was his co-CEO Jürgen Fitschen passing the baton and he himself had also just been appointed to the association’s board of directors.

His absence was noted and didn’t go over well.

“I maybe sometimes make a mistake when I don’t make it to certain events,” Mr. Cryan conceded. But he believes the several hours of his time at such events can be better spent in the service of the bank.

The apolitical banker sees it like this: The majority of the bank’s biggest challenges relate to activities abroad, in London and in the United States, not in Germany. Mr. Cryan doesn’t view socializing in Germany as essential to his job.

Everything Cryan does is correct, but maybe the puzzle is simply unsolvable this time.

“I cannot replace Jürgen (Fitschen) there. Or somebody else will have to do my job. Both are important,” he said.

Mr. Fitschen, his co-chief executive, will be leaving his post in a few weeks, part of the deal made a year ago that led to Mr. Jain’s more abrupt ouster. Mr. Fitschen, a well-respected banker in Germany, has covered for his British colleague among in the bank’s dealings with mid-sized businesses and with government leaders in Berlin.

After intense discussions in recent days, Mr. Fitschen has agreed to remain on, even after he steps down as co-CEO, with Deutsche Bank in a part-time capacity.

Mr. Fitschen’s reduced role, combined with the departure of another well-connected investment banker, Karl-Georg Altenburg, leaves Deutsche Bank’s Mr. Cryan in search for a new “Mr. Germany” to maintain relationships with big corporate clients.

But as the undisputed top banker at Deutsche Bank, Mr. Cryan knows he cannot afford to neglect Germany for too long. Prodded by his new communications director, he plans to spend more time in the country in the future, especially in Berlin.

He already meets regularly with Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and has met with Chancellor Angela Merkel more than once. The Deutsche Bank boss and German chancellor in some ways are kindred spirits: Both are physicists and both are analytical thinkers who make calculations largely unfettered by emotion.

He speaks English with Mr. Schäuble and Ms. Merkel, who are concerned with how the bank is doing and how much longer his restructuring will take.

Such questions are also of great concern to investors, who actually must hate Mr. Cryan given that the bank’s share price has shed about half its value since he became CEO. But it’s more complicated than that.

“John Cryan has done a good job so far, even if that isn’t reflected in profits,” said Helmut Hipper, a fund manger at Union Investment, a German fund manager. He describes the Deutsche Bank boss as “solution-oriented, task-oriented and calm.”

Bank investors appreciate Mr. Cryan’s no-nonsense analysis and hope he can work the same wonders he once did for UBS, which he helped pull out of the financial crisis.

But can lightning strike twice?

Doubts are growing. “Everything Cryan does is correct, but maybe the puzzle is simply unsolvable this time,” said a major investor, who declined to be named.

Investors’ questions are becoming more pressing. Will the new strategy really do enough to revive the bank? Were deeper cost-savings not needed? Or would further cost cuts bleed the company lifeless?

Is Deutsche Bank a problem that defines a solution? Some investors are beginning to ask whether the bank is capable of surviving on its own, or whether it needs to join forces with a strong partner.

What, really, has he done? Mr. Cryan essentially inherited his strategy from his predecessors. In principle, there’s not much different from Mr. Ackermann’s vision of creating a broad-based universal bank.

But for now, investors still have Mr. Cryan’s back, even if they have questions and felt neglected when he came on board.

In his view, passive investors are the primarily holder of the bank’s shares these days and only invest because Deutsche Bank is listed on Germany’s DAX and other stock indices. To find more engaged investors, Mr. Cryan is pitching new institutional investors.

On his recent trip to California, the chief executive met with value investors such as Brandis, Causeway and Dodge & Cox in a bid to convince them to invest. But, like many, they hesitated because they know Mr. Cryan is still at the beginning of his difficult strategic plan, known as Strategy 2020.

Mr. Cryan’s Five-Year Plan

A flashback to a moment in Singapore, on that first Sunday morning at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

The breakfast buffet is being slowly cleaned up. One last question: Why did Mr. Cryan snub so many top managers at the bank with his searing criticism of inflated bonuses?

Sitting upright, hands on his lap, Mr. Cryan doesn’t hesitate before saying, “I would say it like that again. That is my personal opinion.”

They are the words of a man who isn’t out to make friends, but is committed to breathing life into an underperforming bank and transforming it into an institution more reliant on electronic trading than human traders.

Moreover, since coming aboard, Mr. Cryan has almost completely turned over the executive board and replaced three quarters of the bank’s managers. “We are like a new company, in a positive sense. There has emerged a kind of start-up feeling,” he said.

Mr. Cryan knows the kind of explosive power his words can have and he has toned it down somewhat since first taking control of Deutsche Bank. He is less negative, more forward-looking.

The banker denies rumors of rift between him and long-time Mr. Achleitner over management style. “That is complete nonsense,” he said. “We speak at least two hours each week and I wish it were more.”

But while Mr. Achleitner’s position atop the non-executive supervisory board appears tenuous, with questions rising about his role in the bank’s hindering of the Libor investigations, Mr. Cryan appears firmly embedded as chief executive. Different from Mr. Jain, he has no need to be adored and seeks no monument to his accomplishments, like Mr. Ackermann.

Mr. Cryan’s strategic plan is not a means toward self-recognition – it is an intellectual challenge, a puzzle he must solve.

“John is a chief for times of crisis. He would not be a fit for periods of rapid growth.”

A former colleague, who declined to be named

“John is a chief for times of crisis. He would not be a fit for periods of rapid growth,” said a former colleague who worked with him for many years and declined to be named.

Mr. Cryan knows that. But he waves off rumors that he only plans to stay at Deutsche Bank until 2018 – the year in which his strategic plan targets sustainable profitability. He is adamant about remaining at his post for the full five years in his contract.

“After all, we’ve got a lot planned through 2020,” he said. Only at that point, with the restructuring complete, would Mr. Cryan view his mission as complete. But who knows, the British banker is always up for a good surprise.

Before all is said and done, Mr. Cryan expects more criticism – which he takes with a healthy dose of self-deprecating humor.

In a recent April fools joke, a British publication claimed the Deutsche Bank chief recently had hired an image consultant who advised him to grow his hair out and purchase a Harley Davidson. A few weeks later, after a dinner in Washington, his wife convinced him to pose for a photo in front of a Harley that just happened to be parked nearby.

The photo, taken from a mobile phone, was meant purely as a joke. But it is also a statement: John Cryan doesn’t want an image consultant. In the end, he wants to change the bank, not himself.


Daniel Schäfer is head of the finance at Handelsblatt. Michael Maisch is deputy editor of the finance section of Handelsblatt. To reach the authors:

We hope you enjoyed this article

Make sure to sign up for our free newsletters too!