Former Deutsche Bank boss Rolf Breuer dies at 86

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Former Deutsche Bank chair and chief executive Rolf Breuer, who presided over a decade of global expansion for Germany’s largest lender, has died at the age of 86.

Breuer passed away after a long illness, the bank said on Thursday.

A Deutsche lifer who started his career as a trainee in the 1950s, Breuer was the architect of the ill-fated acquisition of US rival Bankers Trust in 1999. The $10bn deal underlined the Frankfurt bank’s ambitions to challenge Wall Street institutions such as Goldman Sachs.

In the wake of the acquisition, Deutsche briefly became the biggest bank in the world in 2007 and was highly profitable for several years. But its high-risk, low-capital business model unravelled after the global financial crisis.

It took Deutsche Bank’s management more than a decade to fix the lender, which also paid billions in euros in fines and settlements for misconduct and control failures.

Deutsche Bank chair Alexander Wynaendts said that Breuer’s “importance for Deutsche Bank cannot be overestimated”. The lender has lost “one of its most influential personalities”, he added.

CEO Christian Sewing said that he remembered Breuer as “an ‘old school’ banker in the best sense of the word” with “enormous strategic vision”.

A year after the Bankers Trust deal, Breuer championed another merger with Frankfurt rival Dresdner Bank. The plan fell apart in 2000 due to internal opposition from Deutsche’s investment bankers.

Breuer studied law after an apprenticeship at Deutsche Bank, returning to the lender in 1966. He was a member of its executive board since 1985 and succeeded Hilmar Kopper as CEO in 1997. He was the bank’s chair from 2002 to 2006.

Separately as chair of Deutsche Börse, he was a key driver of Frankfurt stock exchange’s failed merger with London Stock Exchange. The deal collapsed after an acrimonious shareholder revolt in 2005. He subsequently stepped down as Deutsche Börse chair.

media mogul Leo Kirch
Remarks by Breuer about media mogul Leo Kirch led to a civil lawsuit and Breuer eventually paid €3.2mn in damages to Deutsche Bank © AP

In 2002, Breuer also caused a stir when he questioned the credit worthiness of German TV mogul Leo Kirch in a Bloomberg TV interview, stating that “the financial sector” was unwilling to provide extra funding to the Kirch Group, which at the time was Germany’s second-largest media company.

Kirch Group, which owned several of Germany’s largest TV channels and a large stake in the publishing group Axel Springer, collapsed into insolvency within weeks. The bankruptcy triggered a long-running civil law suit. In a settlement in 2014, Deutsche agreed to pay €925mn to the heirs of Leo Kirch, who had passed away in 2011.

Breuer later agreed to pay €3.2mn in damages to Deutsche Bank over the TV interview.


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