Josef “Joe” Ackermann, the former boss of Deutsche Bank, is a controversial figure. Seldom has anyone in Germany been as polarizing as the man who led the bank for a 10-year period that included navigating it through the financial crisis without government assistance. The words, “the more danger, the more honor,” suit few executives as well as they do Mr. Ackermann.
His past has been checkered. As the top earner among the chief executives of German listed companies, he pocketed €9.8 million ($12.3 million) in 2009. Jealousy flared despite the fact that discussion of wages is a taboo subject in Germany. The inevitable comparisons with low hourly wages, such as the €3 ($ 3.76) earned by a hairdresser, and the millions of euros earned by bankers quickly made the rounds.
And it didn’t go down well in 2005 when Mr. Ackermann set the goal of a 25 percent return on equity at the Frankfurt-based bank. Cries of immorality followed.
A year earlier, the Swiss banker had provoked anger when he gave a “V” for victory hand gesture at a trial in which he had been interrogated on suspicion of breach of trust. The court acquitted him, but what remained was a gesture that for many remains to this day a symbol of the arrogant face of big money.
The 66 year old now has the chance to demonstrate his proclaimed support of the European Union.
And then there was his departure from Deutsche Bank, which should have been glorious. But Mr. Ackermann lost a power struggle with Clemens Börsig, chairman of the supervisory board at the time, over his succession and left with unfinished business.
After his departure, all that remained were posts on supervisory boards, albeit the big, important ones of industrial corporation Siemens and Zurich Insurance. But after another power struggle, this time at Siemens, Mr. Ackermann took flight again. And he stepped down as chairman of Zurich Insurance Group after the suicide of the chief financial officer, who partly blamed him in a suicide/farewell letter.
After that, most people thought Mr. Ackermann had had enough. But now he is back, the new Ackermann. As chairman of the supervisory board at the Bank of Cyprus, he wants to revitalize the institution, which at one point almost failed thanks in part to him. During his time as president of the board of directors of the Institute of International Finance, Mr. Ackermann had pushed for debt cutting in Greece to save the euro. The Cypriot bank took a big hit as it had invested billions in Greek bonds.
In his new role, the 66-year-old now has the chance to demonstrate his proclaimed support of the European Union. Perhaps the image of Joe Ackermann as a characteristically tough Anglo-Saxon banker will soften a little. Maybe it will become that of a one-time banker with a human face. We would wish it for him.
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