The publication of a biography of a businessman, especially the approved biography of a 65-year old business icon, is typically an occasion for the celebration of a career at its peak. Not in the case of Josef Ackermann, the former chief executive of Deutsche Bank.
“Late remorse: a close-up of Josef Ackermann,” written by the Swiss businessman’s ex-head of communications at Deutsche, Stefan Baron, has the laudatory descriptions. Ackermann is no ordinary Joe. He is portrayed as a demanding, difficult boss, whip-smart, impatient and exacting in the pursuit of perfection and excellence — just the sort of person most chief executives secretly see themselves as — and for whom, like Ackerman, an 80- to 100-hour work week, much of it spent at 30,000 feet, is what passes for normal. But Baron’s biography is published as Ackermann has announced his second sudden departure from a high-profile job in a matter of weeks, putting his illustrious if controversial reputation on the line.
Last month, Ackermann resigned as chairman of Zurich Insurance after being named in the suicide note left by the insurer’s chief financial officer Pierre Wauthier (Ackerman has rejected any blame). Now, he says he will be stepping down from Siemens’ supervisory board after losing an internal power battle following the ousting in July of the German engineering giant’s then-chief executive Peter Löscher.
It is a remarkable turnaround for a man who during the decade he led Deutsche was one of Europe’s most prominent and politically powerful bankers, albeit one known to his detractors in Germany as the “ugly face of capitalism.” The remorse of the biography’s title refers to his epiphany during the global financial crisis that the banks had gone in a wrong and risky direction (he reined in Deutsche’s excesses to a point where it did not need a government bail-out), not to any more recent events. But the legacy the book was meant to help enshrine now looks uncharacteristically at risk.