Lenny Fischer: At Table With a Communist After Departure as CEO

Leonhard «Lenny» Fischer

Leonhard «Lenny» Fischer

Leonhard Fischer, a German bank manager and former Credit Suisse executive, set himself the goal of constructing an Anglo-German banking group. After a Chinese investor threw a spanner in the works, Fischer is now open for new adventures.

«Lenny», short for Leonhard Fischer, 53, had his last day at the office on Friday – at the company he helped coming into existence. That company is BHF Kleinwort Benson Group, a banking group Fischer intended to dedicate to marrying German money with Anglo-saxon asset-management competence.

Fischer, once an investment banker at Dresdner Bank, became known in Switzerland during his tenure as chief executive of Winterthur Insurance, which at the time belonged to Credit Suisse (CS). Once he was done with the company, Oswald J. Gruebel was able to sell it to France's Axa.

Kleinwort Benson

At his next employer, RHJ International (RHJI), a Belgian investment company, Fischer worked on a series of stakes, the best known of which being Kleinwort Benson. Prompted by Fischer, RHJI bought the British asset manager in the autumn of 2009.

In March 2014, the Belgians added BHF Bank to the portfolio, buying the business from Deutsche Bank following a protracted regulatory process involving Germany's financial-market authority Bafin.

RHJI wasn't alone in carrying out the transaction though. The investment group worked together with Stefan Quandt, the strongman at the BMW car manufacturer, and Fosun, a Chinese conglomerate under the guidance of Guo Guangchang, China's answer to Warren Buffett.

Allies Turn Into Opponents

Following the conclusion of the deal, RHJI was renamed into BHF Kleinwort Benson Group in March 2015 – the company mentioned in the lead of this story. But at the end of July last year, events took place which proved decisive for the future of Fischer: to his surprise, Fosun offered shareholders of BHF Kleinwort Benson Group to buy the company, with the explanation that Guo Guangchang wasn't happy with the development of the share price.

The Chinese investors felt bolstered by their acquisition agreement for Hauck & Aufhaeuser private bank, based in Frankfurt – a deal that today is still waiting for the regulatory approval by Bafin.

Fischer's project was doomed. The Chinese attempt to take over BHF was a non-starter, because Quandt and U.S. company Franklin Templeton, two major shareholders, rejected the proposal. To thwart the Chinese, they needed a white knight and found one in France. Oddo, a French financing company, had previously shown an interest in BHF Kleinwort Benson and acquired a significant stake. In November 2015, Oddo offered to buy the company and received the approval of Quandt and Franklin Templeton, giving the French a majority stake in the banking group.

Oddo Takes Over

The rest is now history. Philippe Oddo, the head of the French company, made it clear he wanted to concentrate on business in the eurozone, selling the private-banking business in the U.K. and on the Channel Islands to Société Générale. Oddo assumed the role of chief executive at BHF in Frankfurt and put his ally, Christophe Tadié in charge of the finances. Fischer lost out.

The German manager had his last day as CEO of BHF Kleinwort Benson Group last Friday, he told finews.ch in an interview. He isn't going to join another bank as employee and thus won't be available for a job at CS.

In Discussion With a Communist

Fischer has homes in London and Zurich and is a member of the board at Glencore in Zug. He might be tempted to engage in private equity projects, he told finews.ch.

But first, on May 12, he will have a public appearance in Switzerland – discussing capitalism with Sahra Wagenknecht, the known German politician representing Die Linke, a far-left outfit with an Eastern German ancestry. The event is taking place courtesy of the Efficiency Club in Zurich.

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