Christian Sewing is sitting on the far right side of the stage at the Deutsche Bank annual meeting. With his boyish gestures and his hip brown horn-rimmed glasses, the 45-year-old immediately stands out among the other men in the group – even without saying anything. But he could very well be saying a lot in the future.
He is the rising star on the management board, the new all-purpose weapon of supervisory board chairman Paul Achleitner. Mr. Sewing, who holds a degree in business management, was only made head of legal affairs at Germany's largest bank in January.
And on Wednesday evening, the supervisory board also singled out the youngster in a team of eight management board members to take over the retail and commercial customer business previously headed by outgoing board member Rainer Neske.
Because of his extensive experience and personality, he is the right person to lead this core area. Paul Achleitner, Chairman, Deutsche Bank
Even though no one had pinpointed Mr. Sewing as a candidate, the move is not surprising. He and his predecessor have more in common than the fact that they are both from Germany's Westphalia region.
Like Mr. Neske, Mr. Sewing is considered a no-nonsense, grounded person within the "emotionally charged environment of the management board."
Although he is not an attorney, he quickly gained respect in the legal department. "He does his job well, even though he is under a lot of pressure from Georg Thoma," said an insider.
Mr. Thoma, the head of the integrity committee of the supervisory board, is becoming more and more deeply involved in addressing the bank's scandals.
Hardly anyone at Deutsche Bank is not filled with praise for Mr. Sewing, including Mr. Achleitner. He expressed his approval of Mr. Sewing, as the only future addition to the management board, in an official announcement on the changes in the board: "Because of his extensive experience and personality, he is the right person to lead this core area, which is so important to the bank, into a new growth phase."
Mr. Sewing is a homegrown talent for Deutsche Bank. He began his career at a branch office in the northern city of Bielefeld and, while working there, attended the Bielefeld and Hamburg Bank Academy. Additional stepping-stones in his career included positions in Singapore, Toronto and Tokyo, where he headed the lending department for two years.
But he gained his most important experiences in London, a power center for the investment banking division then headed by current co-CEO Anshu Jain. Mr. Sewing spent 12 months working in London with the then chief risk officer, Hugo Bänziger. Together, the two men later developed the bank's new risk center, an early warning system designed to prevent new trading irregularities.
When Mr. Bänziger left the bank following the appointment of Mr. Jain and Jürgen Fitschen as co-CEOs, Stuart Lewis replaced him as chief risk officer, and Mr. Sewing became his deputy.
His major career leap came in the summer of 2013, when Mr. Sewing was named global chief of internal audit and was given full power of attorney. From then on, he reported directly to the co-CEOs. By upgrading the internal audit department, which is tasked with clearing up internal irregularities, the bank hoped to expedite cultural change.
Mr. Sewing had his first stint as an executive board member during a two-year hiatus from Deutsche Bank, starting in 2005, when he worked at the Hamburg-based cooperative mortgage lender DG Hyp. At 34, he was the bank's chief risk officer, a job that involved uncovering potential write-offs from real estate loans. Mr. Sewing managed to perform his cleanup activities quietly and inconspicuously.
A man who knows both men well says that Mr. Sewing and his predecessor, Mr. Neske, are similar types. They got along well, perhaps because of their shared Westphalian roots, and they worked side-by-side. For three years, until 2013, Mr. Sewing was a member of the governing body of the retail and commercial banking division.
His new dual responsibilities will pose an enormous challenge. The retail banking division is at the center of the bank's new Strategy 2020. As a result of the planned spinoff of the Postbank subsidiary, Deutsche Bank is cutting the number of its retail and smaller commercial customers roughly in half, from 28 to 14 million, and it also expects to close 200 branches.
Meanwhile, there is no end in sight to the bank's legal problems. Deutsche Bank is currently involved in 7,000 cases, 1,000 more than last year, as chief financial officer Stefan Krause noted at the annual meeting. In light of this gargantuan task, Mr. Achleitner indicated that Mr. Sewing could eventually step down from his position as head of the legal department.
There was palpable disappointment over Mr. Neske's departure at the shareholders' meeting, and the audience applauded enthusiastically whenever his name was mentioned. Mr. Sewing brings a lot to the table as he fills Mr. Neske's shoes.
A lean, passionate tennis player, he is viewed in banking circles as the bank's hope for the future. And although he rose through the ranks at Deutsche Bank, he is also considered unblemished by its numerous scandals.
The new appointment creates an enormous opportunity for Mr. Sewing. "If he manages to prove himself, he could be destined for higher offices in the medium term," said a senior manager.
A job as CEO in 2017, when Mr. Fitschen's contract expires, still seems highly unlikely today. But Mr. Sewing has plenty of time. He will be only 47 in 2017.
Laura de la Motte covers the banking sector for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]