No more Mr Nice Guy at Commerzbank
Manfred Knof starts early next year, after Martin Zielke is ousted by Cerberus. He joins recently arrived chairman Hans-Jörg Vetter.
Commerzbank’s new chief executive Manfred Knof is nobody’s idea of Mr Nice Guy, which probably explains his appointment.
A profile of Knof last year quoted a former colleague from insurer Allianz saying that Knof’s favourite tool when negotiating with unions was the crowbar.
This reputation as a human lever may have earned Knof his new position as chief executive of Commerz, after big shareholder Cerberus, the US private equity firm, helped to force out his predecessor Martin Zielke for cutting costs too slowly.
Knof certainly makes little effort to come over as warm and cuddly.
His opening statement in a press release announcing his appointment on Saturday was clinical, even for a German banker.
“I have a great deal of respect for this new assignment,” Knof said, in the tone of a man who has been reluctantly persuaded to accept an unpleasant task.
He acknowledged Commerz’s role in financing Germany’s mittelstand of small and medium-sized firms, before concluding: “And Commerzbank has a unique culture that I am very much looking forward to.”
That sentence looked ominously like it was missing a final word, such as “dismantling”.
Knof will take over Commerz at the start of next year against a backdrop of unusually complex relations with key shareholders, as well as the fundamental challenges of negative interest rates and a domestic market that is overbanked.