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Text comes from the book: “Failed Titans: What new managers our world needs” (2015), published by FAZ Verlag, reprinted with the kind permission of the publisher.

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carsten-knopCarsten Knop is business editor at the Frankfurter Allgmeinen Zeitung. Knop studied business administration at the University of Münster and completed an internship at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in 1993. His first editorial position followed his journalistic training in 1995: he went to Düsseldorf for the “Börsen-Zeitung” and in 1996 returned to the Düsseldorf office of the FAZ. After three years of reporting on companies on the Rhine and Ruhr, he went to New York as a business correspondent in May 1999, followed by a move to San Francisco in April 2001 to observe what was happening in “Silicon Valley”. In 2003 he returned to the Frankfurt headquarters, where he has been responsible for corporate reporting since the beginning of 2007 and, since the end of 2014, for economic reporting. Knop is married and has two children.

Josef Ackermann or failure in management: missed the jump

Struggles, sufferings and successes of the company spiegeln often in the person and behavior of the CEO. He is seldom a hero, more often a bogeyman - as in the case of Josef Ackermann. Josef Ackermann-

The example of Josef Ackermann

Josef Ackermann is described as vain by companions. This vanity perhaps also partly explains why his departure from the Deutsche Bank was so bumpy. Because Ackermann simply could not imagine a life without a boss's being.

When Josef Ackermann came to Deutsche Bank, he was internally praised as the best banker on this planet. Almost 20 years later, his resignation as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Zurich Insurance symbolized the end of a career.

Can't stop in time

Like many other confident and highly successful managers for many years, Ackermann did not understand how to stop in time. He had every opportunity to say goodbye with constant standing ovations.

He had recognized many undesirable developments earlier than others and had shown “late remorse”, as his former head of communication Stefan Baron describes in his book about Ackermann. His departure was not an honor for the Swiss.

The merit of the communications chief

Josef Ackermann, the man who became synonymous with the German big banker during his tenure, has always been responsible for a variety of headlines and public debates. Sometimes he came away well, much more badly.

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For many years, his reputation was not so bad among the general public, which was also Baron's credit. "Joe", as he is abbreviated, is the man with the unspeakable "Victory" sign in the Mannesmann process.

A question of timing

He is also the one who did not want to leave Deutsche Bank in a human-unfathomable power struggle, the manager of the financial crisis, who in the end was not as well-liked by the Chancellor as at the beginning.

And he was the supervisory board of Siemens, which fought there violently with his old friend, the Siemens supervisory board chairman Gerhard Cromme. There were always good reasons for Ackermann's behavior. Sometimes he was just unlucky. But in the end everything was a matter of timing.

Chronicle of a resignation

The World Banker married to a Finn, who has always felt that he is on an equal footing with all the powerful in the world, can be credited with numerous roles - for he has worked on many stages.

With his resignation from the Board of Directors of Zurich Insurance, the curtain fell. But Ackermann's most important stage was the Deutsche Bank, and there his farewell dragged on for agonizingly long years. At first, Ackermann had already suggested his resignation at the 2009 Annual General Meeting to the former Supervisory Board Chairman Clemens Börsig.

When friendships break

However, since Ackermann, referring to the German Stock Corporation Act, did not see it as his task to build up a successor, there was no clear favorite on the fast track. As a result, Börsig examined its own change from the Supervisory Board to the Management Board, which satisfied only a few.

The fact that Ackermann finally extended his contract for three years at the request of the Supervisory Board did not prevent the quarrel between Börsig and him. And this strained relationship should damage the reputation of the bank (and ultimately also that of Ackermann) in the years to come.

From the good reputation of the bank

Shortly after the hiccup around the contract extension Ackermanns it came to the so-called spy scandal, in which it was about the exploration of a critical shareholder. The suspicion that Börsig had set these investigations in motion, was not confirmed by the investigations of the prosecutor and the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority Bafin. Nevertheless, deep scratches on the image of the Deutsche Bank and also some internal dispute remained.

The reputation of the institute has suffered from further scandals and affairs afterwards. While most of the associated legal risks are attributable to investment banking formerly managed by Anshu Jain. But as CEO, Ackermann also has a responsibility.

Especially since he said at the 2006 Annual General Meeting - in the spirit of Otto Scharmer: "No business deal in the world is worth putting the good reputation of Deutsche Bank at risk." In the truth of everyday banking, however, the world, as is now known, looked very different.

Without me? Inconceivably!

The relationship between Josef Ackermann and his two successors Anshu Jain and Jürgen Fitschen is still tense today. Ackermann wanted to replace Axel Weber as his successor instead of their already rather the former Federal Bank president.

But Weber preferred the chairmanship of the Swiss UBS. When the decision was taken for the double top of Jain and Fitschen then the Deutsche Bank was still inconceivable without him even for Ackermann.

In the end, only resignation remained

He would have assumed the chairmanship of the supervisory board, which is, however, frowned upon for reasons of good corporate governance, because the predecessor not only controls his successors but also his legacy.

A quarter of the shareholders would have had to agree to a direct change from the Executive Board to the Supervisory Board. This vote, however, became increasingly unlikely, so Ackermann refrained from doing so.

Bad timing

The decision was announced by the bank on 14. November 2011 with. On the same day, the public prosecutor's investigations and searches in connection with a statement of Ackermanns were known in the process, which led the then late former media entrepreneur Leo Kirch against the Deutsche Bank. Worse, the timing for the announcement of Ackermann's farewell could not have been any worse.

That's the way it should go. In the weeks leading up to Ackermann's later departure from Zurich Insurance, he was also on the supervisory board of the German model company Siemens.

Once the call is ruined ...

There, the replacement of former CEO Peter Löscher was highly controversial. The dissonances in the old board around Löscher also led to conflicts and intrigues on the supervisory board.

Ackermann lavierte around: As a deputy chairman of the Supervisory Board Gerhard Crommes, he himself had allegedly ambitions to replace the weakened boss. Of course everything was denied - both the goal as such and everything else. In any case, Ackermann had also ruined his reputation with Siemens.

Micromanagement is boring

Towards the end of his time at Deutsche Bank, Ackermann openly admitted that "micromanagement" hadn't appealed to him lately. Instead, he was constantly traveling around the world; his interlocutors were not only customers of the bank, but above all politicians.

Ackermann made no secret of his joy about this international celebrity. One thing is clear: Ackermann was not the first alpha in the economy to miss the right time to stop. He had already announced in 2007 that he wanted to quit in a few years, specifically without moving to the bank's supervisory board. At the time, he said that he wanted to pass on experience: "At the university or perhaps in the social sphere."

From Sprinter to Sprinter

In his youth the Swiss possessed scientific inclinations; Interest in these topics was still present in mature years. He remained faithful to this plan for a long time. In January 2009 Ackermann said at a late hour shortly before the end of the former World Economic Forum in Davos, his retirement planning is fixed.

He has a lot of plans; the first farewell gifts were already arriving. He reported on a present from the German sprinter Armin Hary that had moved him. You have to know that Ackermann himself was an enthusiastic athlete when he was young and that he certainly followed the career of Hary, who was eleven years older. In any case, Hary had left him a book about himself with a meaningful dedication: “From sprinter to sprinter”.

The perfect time for the finish?

Back then, Ackermann and his audience knew that Hary had run too far too early in his athletic life. But they did not know that Ackermann would miss the perfect time to finish in the months that followed.

He also let pass the opportunity to say goodbye to the impression that Deutsche Bank was brilliantly guided by the financial crisis. His injury time is not good for Ackermann - neither in Germany nor in Switzerland.

There Ackermann had to take his hat as Chairman of the Board of the Zurich Insurance Group, after the former chief financial officer Pierre Wauthier had committed suicide. In a farewell letter Wauthier Ackermann had accused, he had put him under pressure.

Self interest and arrgoganz

However, later research has shown that no "undue pressure" was placed on Wauthier. Ackermann had always denied the allegation anyway. Now when he reads negative texts about himself, he sometimes thinks of Armin Hary, the once fastest man in the world and Olympic champion in Rome:

Even then, Hary experienced what athletes today meet under the heading of general suspicion. He was met with doubt, mistrust and rejection. Self-interest and arrogance were accused of Hary. However, Hary is the last German and last European to hold the 100 Meter World Record.

To be a boss is to communicate

If a person is not at the end of his career, but rather enters the role of the CEO, he usually has no time to slowly grow into his new job. A good communications chief can do many things, but the CEO, the strategy and the communication of a company must fit together in every way - also permanently.

For example, the book “The CEO Navigator” tries to answer the question of how a CEO and his environment can best adapt to this challenge. The author Jan Hiesserich, employee of the strategic communications consultancy Hering Schuppener, which is quite successful in Germany, tries to give clear instructions as possible, which, as is so often the case with advice books, initially sound like common sense - but in practice are anything but trivial.

After all, how many CEOs realize in the final analysis that they also have to define themselves in the function of a communicator and have to reconcile this role with the strategy of their company?

Failure preprogrammed

The alternatives are early failure or greater business success, and associated better overall return on capital and equity. However, the latter succeeds only if the strategy suits the CEO and if the strategy can also communicate conclusively to all stakeholders.

If, for example, the chief executive officer likes to play the role of a world banker or a tech-savvy engineer, but in fact a restructuring is required, the situation for both the Company as well as the boss awkward.

Requirements for modern CEOs

More than ever before, a CEO must certainly, more than ever, keep an eye on the socio-political consequences of acting on behalf of the company he manages, regardless of whether he has been hired as a savior, innovator, or preserver.

In addition, the capital market also has enormous demands on the CEO and his communications. The public perception of the person has a direct influence on the valuation of the company: Investment decisions are heavily influenced by the image investors have of the respective CEO. His profile in the media is crucial. He has to succeed in relieving opposition through targeted communication, opening up room for maneuver, and taking the stakeholders' interests seriously in their interests.

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