One of Deutsche Bank’s top shareholders tried to install former Morgan Stanley president Colm Kelleher as chairman of Germany’s largest lender, highlighting the depth of discontent over the incumbent, Paul Achleitner.
Cerberus, the US private equity fund that is Deutsche’s fifth-biggest shareholder, floated Mr Kelleher in conversations with regulators and chief executive Christian Sewing, said people familiar with the matter.
Cerberus has been agitating for Mr Achleitner’s departure for more than a year and began courting Mr Kelleher before the German bank’s annual investor meeting in May.
One person said Cerberus’ idea failed to win sufficient support from other investors as well as the supervisory board’s nomination committee, which instead nominated Deutsche Börse chief executive Theo Weimer and former German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel as new board members.
Mr Kelleher, who stepped down as Morgan Stanley’s number two in March 2019, declined to comment, as did Cerberus and Deutsche Bank.
Cerberus disclosed a 3 per cent stake in November 2017, which has since lost €400m of value. The fund is also one of the largest shareholders in Deutsche’s domestic rival Commerzbank, where it is sitting on paper losses north of €300m. At Commerzbank, the private equity group this summer successfully lobbied to replace chairman Stefan Schmittmann and chief executive Martin Zielke.
Mr Achleitner last May said he would step down when his second five-year term ends in 2022. That announcement, coupled with Deutsche’s improved financial performance in 2020, took some urgency out of replacing the Austrian who has led the bank through three leadership teams and five strategic plans that failed to arrest the sharp decline in the bank’s share price.
Since Mr Sewing in July 2019 announced a major strategic rejig, shrinking the investment bank and cutting 18,000 jobs, Deutsche’s shares are up about 40 per cent. In the third quarter of this year, the bank returned to profit for the first time since early 2019.
The plan to install Mr Kelleher was not widely known within Deutsche, but some of the bank’s most senior executives had heard about it. One of them described it as a “very surprising” proposition, because Mr Kelleher does not speak German and spent his career at a Wall Street institution that was hugely different to the bank.
Germany has a two-tier corporate governance structure, with a chairman leading a supervisory board where half the seats are held by workers representatives. Non-executive directors can be proposed by shareholders at the annual meeting and are approved by majority vote.
It is not clear whether Cerberus’s idea had the support of other investors. Qatari investors, who own a 6 per cent stake of the bank, are said to have been unhappy with Mr Achleitner’s stewardship. A person advising the Qatari Royal family on its investment in Deutsche did not reply to requests for comment. Other large investors — BlackRock, Capital Group and a fund managed by former JPMorgan finance director Doug Braunstein — declined to comment.
Mr Kelleher, who spent 30 years at Morgan Stanley including a long stint in London, hinted at an upcoming appointment in a July interview with the Financial Times, where he said he had “pretty much made my decision that I was going to do something which was very exciting for me”. At the time, he said he would likely make a decision on his future plans in September or October.
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