Ex-Deutsche Bank boss died: This sentence from Rolf Breuer was really expensive

Former Deutsche Bank boss dies
This sentence by Rolf Breuer was really expensive

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He shaped the financial center of Frankfurt and Deutsche Bank for years: Rolf Breuer. But he is remembered above all for a single sentence. “I had to get used to that,” said the banker. Now he has died at the age of 86.

Rolf Breuer had his office in the shadow of the Deutsche Bank towers long after he retired from active professional life. In the heart of Frankfurt, the former head of Germany’s largest financial institution took care of his numerous honorary positions. But in his old age he reduced the number of mandates. You have to “always think that it is better if the others are sorry when you leave,” he told the German Press Agency on his 80th birthday in 2017. According to Deutsche Bank, Breuer died on Wednesday at the age of 86 “after a long illness surrounded by his family.”

“Mr. Financial Center”, “Germany’s puppet master” – Breuer has collected many attributes in his career. His name is associated with Deutsche Bank’s rise to become one of the world’s leading financial groups – but also with the most expensive interview in German economic history.

“Everything you can read and hear about it is that the financial sector is not prepared to provide any more external or even equity capital on an unchanged basis” – at the beginning of February 2002, Breuer spoke into a reporter’s microphone in a New York hotel room about what many people thought about the media empire of entrepreneur Leo Kirch.

A good two months after the interview, KirchMedia filed for bankruptcy. Kirch blamed Breuer (“Rolf shot me”) and his employer at the time. The accused always denied the accusations that they were responsible for the downfall of the Kirch Group. An expensive settlement stopped the avalanche of lawsuits at the beginning of 2014: the bank paid the Kirch heirs 925 million euros.

“Never fell into a hole”

When asked whether it bothered him that this one sentence was quoted again and again, Breuer answered pragmatically: “I had to get used to it. You can’t let it get to you too much.” Undoubtedly, the battle for his reputation in courtrooms has cost energy. Energy that Breuer otherwise preferred to put into the beautiful things in life: music, art, literature.

International Piano Forum, Schirn Kunsthalle, Feith Foundation, Center for Financial Studies – the list of honorary positions that Breuer has held, especially in his adopted home of Frankfurt, is long. “I never fell into a hole,” said Breuer. “At least I always avoided falling over the cord of the vacuum cleaner at home.” Breuer was married for the second time. The couple have a son and two daughters. His wife has two more children from his first marriage.

Breuer, whose full first name is Rolf-Ernst, ended up at Deutsche Bank more by chance. “My father would have liked me to become a chemist because he thought this profession had the greatest potential. He once sent me on an internship and the result was: no talent,” Breuer once said.

“I didn’t have any exceptional talent: I wasn’t a great musician who could have made a career out of it. Even though I had a lot of passion and commitment, I wasn’t good enough to be a director,” said Breuer, who played the cello when he was younger. “So, out of necessity, or chance, or embarrassment, I became a lawyer and a banker. After graduating from high school, I did an apprenticeship in banking because my father had done one too. And that was at Deutsche Bank, so I’ve never had any other employer in my life.”

“Old school” bankers

When Breuer succeeded Hilmar Kopper as CEO of Deutsche Bank in May 1997, he took over a German-based institution with a focus on lending and private customers. Breuer drove the internationalization of the group and expanded the capital market business – despite some resistance.

“I experienced Rolf Breuer as an ‘old school’ banker in the best sense of the word, with a classic appearance but also with enormous strategic vision,” said the current Deutsche Bank CEO Christian Sewing. “Above all, the large customer segment and international business were close to his heart because he saw them as the basis for a strong German economy.”

One of Breuer’s greatest defeats: the merger of Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank failed in the final stages of 2002. A short time later, in May 2002, Josef Ackermann took over as CEO of Deutsche Bank, and Breuer became chairman of the bank’s supervisory board until May 2006.

His engagement as chief controller of the German Stock Exchange came to an abrupt end: in the spring of 2005, major investors successfully torpedoed the takeover of the London Stock Exchange (LSE) and then forced stock exchange boss Werner Seifert and Breuer out of office. Despite these setbacks, Breuer remained loyal to the Frankfurt financial center: “Frankfurt is my home,” the Bonn native once admitted. “I want to grow old and be buried here.”

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