Josef Ackermann is a polarizing figure. He's been called everything from 'visionary' to Germany's 'most-hated manager'. Now he's been named 'European Banker of the Year.' But the prestigious title has a troubled past.
Ackermann has been head of Deutsche Bank since 2006
Deutsche Bank's CEO Josef Ackermann has been one of the most looked-to figures of the German banking world throughout the financial crisis.
Public perception of him fluctuates: he has been seen as a slick leader capable of leveraging money to get anything he wants, a punching bag to be held responsible for the consequences capitalism, and simply a profit-oriented manager with little social conscience.
But on Monday, at the start of the Euro Finance Week in Frankfurt, Ackermann found himself in the unaccustomed role of a media darling.
He was named "European Banker of the Year" by a panel of economic journalists who praised his leadership of Deutsche Bank during troubled times.
"With this prize we want to set a counterpoint to the public perception of Josef Ackermann in Germany," said Hermann-Josef Knipper, deputy editor-in-chief of the business newspaper Handelsblatt.
A persona such as Ackermann's could well be necessary to thrive in the world of international finance. Born in Switzerland, Ackermann became the first non-German chief executive officer of Deutsche Bank in 2006. Since then he has cut loose industry holdings and some 20,000 employees. A focus on private customers has been replaced with a concentration on larger and more lucrative clients. In short, Ackermann has made himself anything but popular in doing his job.
However, his circle of friends extends to the highest levels of German government. In 2008, his invitation from Chancellor Angela Merkel to a dinner at the chancellery in Berlin set off a flurry of media speculation about cronyism.
Headquartered in Frankfurt, Deutsche Bank maintains an international presence
Award has mixed history
The European Banker of the Year title was first awarded in 1994. Previous winners include high-profile policy-makers, such as Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank and Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg.
Winners from the private sector, however, have been associated with scandal and misfortune. Peter Wuffli of UBS won the award in 2005, but two years later he was embarrassingly ousted from his position as CEO for taking excessive risks.
The Royal Bank of Scotland's Fred Goodwin – known as "Fred the Shred" for his aggressive job cutting strategy– won the award in 2003, but stepped down from his position in 2008 after leading his bank into crisis.
Udo Steffens, President of the Frankfurt School of Finance, says Ackermann deserves his award and is unlikely to suffer a similar fall from grace.
"Ackermann, together with his management team, steered Deutsche Bank through the crisis relatively unscathed," he told Deutsche Welle. "And that is a very excellent feat of management."
Deutsche Bank maintains an international presence like no other German bank, according to Steffens.
"It's vital for an industrialized nation like Germany to have such a bank," he said. "Despite all of the criticism, Germans should be proud to have such a bank in their country."
Author: Gerhard Schneibel / Silke Wunsch
Editor: Sam Edmonds