Who is he: Josef Ackermann is best known as the Chief Executive Officer of Deutsche Bank. Ackermann was instrumental in transforming the bank from an inefficient national player in Germany into a global financial powerhouse. In doing so, Ackermann streamlined its operations and corporate culture by incorporating a number of American business practices.
Ackermann advocated a global focus in the long term, thereby shifting business operations in Germany from commercial banking to securities trading, asset management and underwriting. Shortly after becoming CEO, Ackermann started implementing many drastic changes within the bank.
In line with the company's goals to become a global competitor, Ackermann sought a drastic reduction of the corporate cost structure. He eliminated 18% of the company's workforce and closed numerous retail branches. Ackermann also sold 11 billion euros' worth of non-strategic assets and outsourced the company's computer systems and real estate functions.
Ackermann has been portrayed as a financial legend in spite of the fact that Deutsche Bank was no more successful in insulating itself from the economic crisis of 2008 than any other Western securities and banking establishment.
From a free-market standpoint, Deutsche Bank is just another fiat-money, paper-shuffling entity that would have gone bankrupt in 2008 without the emergency assistance of tens of trillions of dollars that central banks distributed digitally to try to unfreeze the world's economic system.
It can continually be stated that entities like Deutsche Bank are solvent and that people like Josef Ackermann are financial legends, but the truth is far different. No Western banking entity is solvent. If Ackermann is to be congratulated on anything it is for his ability – for a while – to make a bank whose assets are divorced from an underlying commodity seem as if it were well run and "disciplined."
Ackermann may thus be seen as a master of public relations more than as a banking wizard. He could have told the truth about the economic system after it collapsed in 2008. In not doing so, Ackermann confirms what is evident and obvious: He is merely interested in perpetuating the system as it is, with all its lying and ruin, rather than improving it via truth-telling and honesty.
Background: Josef Ackermann was born in 1948 in Mels, Switzerland. His father was the local physician, who was often called to attend to bone fractures and injuries from ski accidents. Ackermann himself pursued recreational interests in skiing and other sports. Ackermann went on to learn multiple languages and took to learning the piano.
Ackermann showed early prowess in mathematics. However, instead of science or engineering, he chose to pursue economics, graduating from the University of St. Gallen with a degree in that field. In addition, Ackermann served in the army reserves and was made a colonel. Rather than pursuing a military career, he completed his economics doctorate at the Institute of National Economics in 1977.
That same year, Ackermann joined Credit Suisse in New York as an assistant to the board of directors. After assignments in London, Zurich and Lausanne, Ackermann was promoted to general director of the board in 1990. Three years later, he became the company's president. During that same year, Credit Suisse merged with Volksbank. Due to a clash over corporate strategy with other board members, especially then CEO Rainer Gut, Ackermann left the company in 1996.
Ackermann joined Deutsche Bank that same year, once again as a member of the board. In 1998, he oversaw and facilitated the merger of Deutsche Bank with Bankers Trust, an American bank. Under Ackermann's steady leadership, the global operations and institutions department grew rapidly, so that it eventually contributed 60% of the bank's revenues in 1999.
Ackermann succeeded CEO Rolf Breuer and served as CEO designate for almost two years before his formal promotion to the role in 2002. By this time, corporate and investment banking revenues had surged to 14.3 billion euros or about five times the 1998 level.
Under Ackermann, the bank also changed its corporate lending policies, prioritizing performance over past relationships. This caused the severance of ties with long-standing corporate partners, including Volkswagen. Non-performing loans were sharply reduced as a result of this policy change.
Ackermann also sold billions of euros of poorly performing assets, particularly the company's stake in Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurer. His decision turned out to be the right strategy, as it earned Deutsche Bank a large capital gain that was used for further restructuring. As a result, the bank's net profit rose by 85% in 2003. In a few short years, Deutsche Bank was transformed from a large, inefficient bank into a competitive beast, ranking as the seventh largest in the world.
Josef Ackermann has also served in board positions in other prominent German companies, notably Linde, Bayer AG, Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Siemens and Mannesman. In 2006, Ackermann was appointed Chairman of the Management Board of Deutsche Bank.
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