August 7, 2022

Deutsche Bank Star Fights to Take the Reins

A banker with a pied-piper quality, Mr. Mitchell persuaded Mr. Jain and 500 others to leave secure jobs at Merrill Lynch in the mid-1990s to help him transform Deutsche Bank from a slumbering financial institution focused mostly on traditional lending to German companies and individuals into a global powerhouse that generated half its profit from trading and deal-making. At the peak of his success, in late 2000, Mr. Mitchell was killed in a plane crash.

In building Deutsche’s investment bank, Mr. Mitchell formed the template for the global universal bank that has since been emulated — for good and ill — by Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland, JPMorgan Chase, UBS and Barclays.

At the age of 48 — about the same age as Mr. Mitchell when he died — Mr. Jain controls all of his former mentor’s empire, and more. In a given quarter, those operations may produce as much as 90 percent of the banking giant’s profit. Now he is confronting the same obstacle that confounded Mr. Mitchell and prompted him to start looking for another job in the days before he was killed.

As a non-German speaker and Wall Street product, Mr. Jain is facing an uphill battle to succeed Deutsche Bank’s chief executive, Josef Ackermann.

More diplomat than banker, the Swiss-born, German-speaking Mr. Ackermann and the Deutsche board have resisted persistent shareholder demands that the bank put forward a succession plan before Mr. Ackermann’s contract expires in 2013.

All of which has enhanced the view that Mr. Ackermann sees it as his legacy to crown a successor in his own statesman-like mold — perhaps Axel A. Weber, the recently departed head of the German central bank. There has been much talk of Mr. Weber becoming chief executive or coming in to share the job in some way with Mr. Jain.

Ultimately it will be a board decision, and the bank may well decide to anoint Mr. Jain. But the delay, institutional shareholders say, runs the risk of alienating Mr. Jain and might cause him to jump to another investment bank.

“In Germany, no one can imagine an Indian working in London who does not speak German being the C.E.O. of Deutsche Bank,” said Lutz Roehmeyer, a portfolio manager at LBB Invest in Berlin and a large shareholder. “But Deutsche Bank is an investment bank now, and Mr. Jain deserves to run it.”

On a narrow profit and loss calculus, that may be so. But even though Deutsche’s risk taking was not as outlandish as that of others, the bank was an enthusiastic participant in the United States mortgage boom and is being sued for $1 billion by the United States government, which contends that its mortgage unit engaged in fraud and deceived regulators to have their loans guaranteed.

While the majority of the alleged fraud took place before Deutsche acquired the mortgage operation, Mr. Ackermann and the Deutsche board may well be wary of choosing a bond and derivatives technician at a time when the practices of all major banks are still being scrutinized.

People who have spoken to Mr. Jain say that he recognizes this is a board decision and that his priority is to keep the profits coming. But, these people say, the delay and the possibility that Mr. Ackermann may not support him for the job has had its effect.

During a brief interview Tuesday, Mr. Jain took issue with rumors in the market that his relationship with Mr. Ackermann — never close to begin with — had cooled and that he might leave the bank.

“I have been given a huge new opportunity to integrate the investment bank and I am very excited about that,” he said. “As for my relationship with Joe, it is as good as it ever was in almost 15 years of working together.”

Mr. Ackermann declined to comment on the question of his successor, but he has in the past made it clear that the decision to pick the bank’s next leader is the board’s responsibility — with his input of course — and that his contract runs until 2013.

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