John Cryan, Deutsche Bank′s new broom | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 08.06.2015
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John Cryan, Deutsche Bank's new broom

Germany's largest bank has surprised the banking world with a new, British chief executive. John Cryan, 54, is a former CFO of Swiss bank UBS with a reputation for ruthless efficiency.

Like so many of the most prominent names in British finance and politics, John Cryan was educated at "Oxbridge" - the United Kingdom's two most venerable institutions of higher education, Oxford and Cambridge. Cryan spent three years at the University of Cambridge getting a Master of Arts, and like many graduates of Oxbridge, Cryan went directly to the City of London after finishing his course.

In 1982, at the tender age of 21, he went to work for the global accountancy Arthur Andersen, and spent five years getting familiar with the ins and outs of high-finance balance sheets. In 1987, he switched to SG Warburg, an investment bank founded in London in 1946 by a pair of German Jewish financiers who had fled Germany in the 1930s.

SG Warburg re-established its connection to the German banking world some years after the war ended, and John Cryan ended up working in Munich as a director of SG Warburg's German operations between 1990 and 1992. That, in turn, led him to acquire a reasonable command of spoken German, which may have been one consideration weighing in his favor - among many others - for the supervisory board selection committee that announced Cryan would become Deutsche Bank's new co-CEO in a special session on Sunday.

SG Warburg was taken over by a Swiss bank in 1995, and eventually became part of UBS, the biggest Swiss bank. Cryan stuck with Warburg through the changes, and found himself working in the Financial Institutions Group at UBS's London operations between 1992 and 2008, where he rose steadily through the ranks.

Deutsche Bank AGM

A good many investors made their dissatisfaction with the bank's direction and leadership clear at the AGM on 21 May 2015

In 2008, he was made Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and a member of the Group Executive Board of UBS in Zurich. By 2010, he was chairman and CEO of UBS's EMEA unit - the part of the bank's business covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Broadening horizons

But in 2011, he left UBS to take over the European operations of Temasek, Singapore's sovereign wealth fund. He oversaw Temasek's European and African portfolios until the end of July 2014, after which he stepped back to a reduced role as a senior advisory director, to allow him more time to pursue other interests.

Those other interests included taking on a role in 2013 as a member of Deutsche Bank's board of directors. In addition to serving on the risk committee, he became chairman of the bank's audit committee - among the most important supervisory board roles.

That meant Cryan was a participant in the strategic discourse in the highest circles of Deutsche during the past couple of years. It has been a period during which Deutsche has had to deal with a plethora of lawsuits and fines resulting from a wide variety of malfeasance during the past decade and a half, and has struggled to redefine its strategic direction.

Anshu Jain and Jürgen Fitschen were appointed co-CEOs of Deutsche at the bank's annual general meeting (AGM) at the end of May 2012. Three years later, they were still struggling to define a new strategy for the bank. The plan they presented at the AGM in May 2015 fell rather flat with analysts, who saw it as insufficiently bold.

The pair also received a lot of criticism from investors at the AGM, and the media highlighted Fitschen and Jain's senior management roles during the bank's past two decades, a period during which the bank accumulated a rich legacy of problems and a troubling record of law-breaking.

In the weeks after the AGM, senior figures - including Fitschen and Jain - took stock of the situation and asked whether their continuing in the CEO roles was in the bank's best interests. The clock began running out on their tenure - and the supervisory board quietly began seeking a fresh face to lead the bank.

Cryan will replace Jain as Fitschen's co-CEO at the beginning of July, but Fitschen will stay on only for another year - he has announced that he will step down at the next AGM in May 2016, at which time Cryan is to become sole CEO of the giant bank.

Frankfurt Deutsche Bank's co-CEOs Anshu Jain und Jürgen Fitschen weren't able to retain the confidence of the supervisory board

Frankfurt Deutsche Bank's co-CEOs Anshu Jain und Jürgen Fitschen weren't able to retain the confidence of the supervisory board

Paul Achleitner, chairman of Deutsche's supervisory committee, said that Cryan "knows the bank well, and we are convinced he is the right person at the right time" to take over the helm, adding that Cryan "brings an external perspective but is deeply familiar with Deutsche Bank; he has experience in our industry but is unassociated with legacy matters."

Rational and hard-headed

Cryan appears to have been hired because of his reputation for keeping a tough-minded focus on cleaning up balance sheets. His role would be that of an efficient broom charged with sweeping out Deutsche's Augean stables.

Cryan said that Deutsche's future "depends on how well we deliver on strategy, impress clients and reduce complexity."

Analysts say Cryan has a reputation for ruthless efficiency, delivered with a sober personal style - nothing flashy. His success in helping steer UBS through the aftermath of the global financial crisis that began in 2007-8 in his role as the Swiss bank's CFO had led to speculation amongst banking insiders that Cryan could be a contender for a CEO role for a big European bank - speculation that intensified after he stepped back from running Temasek's European operations a year ago.

"We believe Mr. Cryan will be able to review the size and scale of the investment bank with a much harsher lens than Mr. Jain," said Stuart Graham, head of banking sector research company Autonomous Research in London.

With the announcement that Cryan will become CEO, Deutsche's supervisory board has made it plain that the bank needs a firm hand and a cool head to steer it through a major overhaul. Financial markets reacted positively to the news.

However, there was no indication in the bank's leadership change announcement that its recently decided "Strategy 2020" would be jettisoned along with the current co-CEOs, Fitschen and Jain. Board chairman Achleitner said on the weekend that Cryan "espouses the professional and personal values required to advance... Strategy 2020," so at this stage, at least, the bank wants to underline that the appointment of a new CEO is a personnel change, rather than signal another shift in strategic direction.

In addition to his supervisory board role at Deutsche Bank, from which he will step down when he becomes co-CEO, John Cryan sits on the board of British hedge fund Man Group as well as the those of ST Asset Management and Tana Africa Capital. The latter two funds are owned or co-owned by Temasek.

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