Frankfurt Hardly an interview was given by Hans-Jörg Vetter in his seven years as CEO of the Landesbank Baden-Württemberg (LBBW). The now 67-year-old bank manager, who headed LBBW until 2016, never pushed himself into the public eye. As a possible chairman of the Commerzbank– However, Vetter’s supervisory board must expect to be much more in the spotlight.
Vetter is considered a promising candidate for the position of chief controller at Commerzbank. The supervisory board of Germany‘s second largest private bank could make a decision on Monday. Almost a month ago, Commerzbank CEO Martin Zielke and Chairman of the Supervisory Board Stefan Schmittmann surprisingly announced their resignations after a shareholder revolt by the US fund Cerberus.
However, even before the decision about the top personnel is in dispute, there are considerable reservations among Vetter’s large shareholders. I miss the experience when it comes to the management of a listed major international bank, the critics complain. In addition, the ex-banker has been out of business for three years and is not familiar with important issues such as retail banking or digitalization. Therefore, he is not the right candidate for the post.
Commerzbank is facing tough cuts in the course of its realignment. A total of around 10,000 jobs are to be cut, which means around every fourth job. The number of branches should also drop drastically. Vetter has to grapple with the rebellious US major shareholder Cerberus, who has already successfully tackled Zielke and Schmittmann.
In any case, Vetter is familiar with the shrinking of banks. He is considered an experienced renovator. In 2009, Vetter moved to the top of LBBW, which had faltered due to high-risk business with complex financial products and had to be saved by the state owners. The Landesbank has been making profits for a long time.
Previously, the real estate expert had brought Landesbank Berlin, which had emerged from the scandalous Bankgesellschaft Berlin, back on track with severe cuts. In the financial crisis, the stricken – and later nationalized – real estate financier Hypo Real Estate Vetter brought the board to the board.
Vetter, who sees himself as a “decent bank craftsman”, is not only a renovation specialist, but also an old-school banker: always dressed correctly – with a suit and tie and usually with a pocket square. At LBBW, the native of Göppinger benefited from the fact that he knows how the Swabians tick, and was therefore able to maintain a close exchange with the Landesbank’s large domestic corporate customers.
Strict restructuring course at LBBW
Companions describe cousins as someone who likes to speak plain text. He also made this clear when he took office at LBBW: Right from the start, he explained to the employees that 2,500 jobs would be lost – every fifth job. Nevertheless, he received applause from the employees in the end.
The bank manager was not very sensitive to the employees, insiders find “gnarled” Vetter performed. Cousin didn’t care what others think. Critics among the ex-colleagues assume that the refurbisher has a certain ruthlessness that has shown not only in the large but also in the small. The bank manager smoked a pipe in conferences – where others naturally went outside for the smoking break.
Even though LBBW has been in the black for a long time, shrinking using the “lawnmower method”, as some employees criticize, has its limits. Vetter is said to be more of a renovator than a strategist. His successor at the top of LBBW, Rainer Neske, mentioned at his first press conference that the bank had been focusing on reducing risk and the balance sheet for a very long time. But that is not a corporate purpose.
In addition, parts of LBBW are still under renovation. The subsidiary BW-Bank, which is aimed at private customers and small corporate customers, is cutting back on its branch network. In the end, 100 branches from the past almost 170 should be left over – the number may decrease even further in the face of the digitization surge in the corona crisis. In contrast to the decision taken by Vetter as the bank manager, there will no longer be purely advisory branches in the future that customers can only visit by appointment.
Vetter spent most of his professional life at the German bank started, spent in the public banking sector. Vetter was on the board of Landesbank Hessen-Thüringen, which he left in 2000, before his restructuring job in Berlin. At that time he lost in the fight for the top job.
Vetter was always considered to be well networked in the public banking warehouse and in Baden-Württemberg’s state politics. At Commerzbank, he not only needs close ties to the federal government as the main shareholder, but also to the United States. Financial circles say that the new candidate has had no contact with Cerberus so far. One who knows Vetter well says: “He certainly won’t become a friend of Cerberus.”
More: How the Cerberus and Commerzbank scandal broke out.