Chairman and chief executive officer, Deutsche Zentral-Genossenschaftsbank
Born: January 6, 1941, in Munich, Germany.
Family: Married (wife's name unknown); children: two.
Career: Sudwestdeutsche Genossenschaftliche Zentralbank, 1991–1998, member of managing board; 1998–2000, chairman; Genossenschaftliche Zentralbank, 2000–2001, chairman; Deutsche Zentral-Genossenschaftsbank, 2001–, chairman and CEO.
Address: Deutsche Zentral-Genossenschaftsbank, Platz Der Republik 1, Frankfurt Am Main 0325, Germany; http://www.dz-bank.de/internet_en.
■ Ulrich Brixner was a banker with experience in both German and international banking. He was the first chairman of the board of directors of Deutsche Zentral-Genossenschaftsbank (DZ Bank). His successful career reflected both a deep understanding of the intricacies of the banking industry and a need for solid control of operations.
Brixner gained prominence in the credit and cooperative banks of Germany. By 1991 he had been helped into a position of authority by Bernd Thiemann; Brixner was heading Genossenschaftliche Zentralbank (GZ Bank), the smaller of Germany's two credit bank cooperatives—the other being Deutsche Genossenschaftsbank (DG Bank). Thiemann was then chairman of Nord/LB (a German financial institution) while Brixner headed its smaller competitor GZ Bank. In that year Brixner declined an opportunity to merge with the larger of Germany's credit banks, DG Bank, which named Thiemann to be its chairman. The two men became rivals in a relationship that would come to a head 10 years later.
Under Brixner's leadership GZ Bank came to include not only three of Germany's major credit banks (Genossenschaftliche Zentralbank in Stuttgart, Sudwestdeutsche Genossenschafts-Zentralbank in Frankfurt, and Westdeutsche Genossenschafts-Zentralbank in Düsseldorf) but also the largest of the German building societies and several mortgage banks, investment companies, leasing and manufacturing companies, and a large insurance group.
As Germany took a prominent role in the economic development of the European Union, German companies expanded across the continent; the more aggressive German banks followed these firms into new markets. Brixner and GZ Bank, meanwhile, looked even farther abroad. In November 1995 GZ Bank opened an office in Singapore with plans to convert the outlet into a merchant-banking operation by 1998. This move was made because of the growing number of German companies in the Asia Pacific region.
In 1991 Brixner and GZ Bank had declined merger possibilities, but during the following years it became clear that a merger of Germany's top cooperative banks would be beneficial. The number of cooperative banks in Germany was somewhere between 1,700 and two thousand but had been declining steadily. The three top banks—DG Bank, GZ Bank, and WGZ Bank (Westdeutsche Genossenschafts-Zentral Bank)—then entered into negotiations. The last of the three soon dropped out; DG Bank and GZ Bank continued talking in a painful public process until the formal merger was completed in September 2001. DG Bank was the larger of the two, but Brixner's GZ Bank had been the better performer; in the end Brixner overcame his rival Thiemann to become chairman of the new entity, which was to be called Deutsche Zentral-Genossenschaftsbank (DZ Bank).
DZ Bank was the sixth-largest bank in Germany and was to manage a large number of the country's credit unions and rural cooperatives, mostly in Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Rheinland-Pfalz, and Saarland. On the one hand the new bank faced increased opportunities and markets as a result of the combination; on the other hand management changes and job redundancy issues were difficult obstacles that would have to be confronted. Furthermore, Brixner found that DG Bank had brought along significant liabilities. In an interview published by the Banker on March 1, 2002, Brixner said that DG Bank had made loans that were economically unsupportable; GZ Bank had followed an extremely conservative loan policy and had not faced the same problem.
In the months following the completion of the merger Brixner was able to secure greater control by reducing the number of DG Bank representatives in positions of authority. In January 2002 the announcement was made that three ex-DG executives would be leaving the governing board. The board comprised only 10 members altogether, five of which, including Brixner, had come from GZ.
In a 2002 interview with the Banker , Brixner stated that in addition to the expected problems of merging two organizations—and of dealing with DG Bank's large number of failed debtors—another immediate problem was the poor economic situation that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States. Redundancies approached one thousand jobs, but duplication was finally eliminated. DZ Bank also cut material costs in its general reduction of expenditures and liabilities.
Brixner moved to increase company income by applying GZ Bank's conservative loan policies and moving aggressively to recover the faulty loans. He hoped to decrease DZ Bank's cost-to-income ratio from over 70 percent to 60 percent. Brixner and DZ Bank also planned to expand into an increasing number of national and international markets, which would bring the company into direct competition with Deutsche Bank and other large banks. He stated that increased competitiveness in retail and other noncooperative bank sectors would be necessary because of the decreasing number of cooperative banks controlled by DZ.
By June 2004 DZ Bank had become both a central bank and a commercial bank and was one of the world's eight largest cooperative banks. It had branches, subsidiaries, and representative offices all over the world. Brixner remained unconvinced by skeptical criticism regarding his firm. He applied the same focused, conservative attention to DZ Bank as he had to GZ Bank, and he expected to enjoy similarly positive results. His optimism was based on logical business methodology.
"Brixner Brings DZ Bank under His Control," Global News Wire/Europe Intelligence Wire (abstracted from Financial Times Deutschland ), January 31, 2002.
"Brixner Replaces Thiemann at DG Bank," Global News Wire (abstracted from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung ), p. 21.
"GZ Bank Appointment," Global News Wire/Borsen-Zeitung , February 3, 2000, p. 6.
Raj, Conrad, "German Banking Group Opens Office in Singapore," Business Times (Singapore), November 24, 1995, p. 3.
SEC Edgar Filings: Kreditanstalt Fuer Wiederaufbau (2004) and Landwirtschaftliche Rentenbank (2003, 2004), 18-K.
"SGZ Bank Wants to Unite Forces in the Southwest," Global News Wire/Die Welt , February 10, 1999, p. 20.
Wagner, Jan F., "A Merger of Equals?" Banker , March 1, 2002.