Alumni Profile: Axel Wieandt ’92
||Axel Wieandt '92
Working to bring stability to the financial system
Axel Wieandt ’92 didn’t start out seeking a career as a banker, even though his family had been in the banking industry for decades.
Wieandt’s father was Paul Wieandt, a German banker known for his work restructuring banks. His sister Dorothee Blessing is a managing partner at Goldman Sachs. His brother-in-law Martin Blessing is CEO of Commerzbank, and his brother Carl Wieandt was an investment banker for years before becoming a partner at McKinsey & Co.
As he began his career, Wieandt considered a variety of fields, including the media industry and general management. But as a young McKinsey consultant, he found he enjoyed working on finance projects, and began to realize he could lead a fulfilling career in the banking industry.
"Banking is intellectually challenging, very dynamic and involves dealing with people internationally," Wieandt says. "Banks perform an important function for the business world and for society at large."
Since then, Wieandt has taken positions of increasing responsibility in the banking industry, moving from Morgan Stanley in London to Deutsche Bank AG. At Deutsche he has held several positions, including global head of corporate development investments.
Those duties prepared him to step up in October 2008 when the government named Wieandt the CEO of Hypo Real Estate Holding AG (HRE), a German lender that nearly collapsed during the global financial meltdown. The German government and the financial sector launched a massive rescue operation and asked Wieandt to come on board.
Wieandt faced a crisis situation as he sought to lead one of Germany’s largest real estate financers from the brink of insolvency. His primary goals were to secure sufficient liquidity and capital, and to redefine the business model and restructure the company accordingly.
"You follow a call of duty," Wieandt says. "Everybody expects that banking professionals will help bring stability to the financial system — and rightly so."
Wieandt also needed to gain the trust of the company’s stakeholders, from employees to the government officials who were monitoring HRE’s every move. He did not sugarcoat the situation, believing that clear communication and transparency were vital in dealing with the crisis.
"There was no script for a situation like this," he says. "During the crisis, a lot of decisions had to be made very quickly. But we also had to take time for proper analysis so that we could make good decisions on the important issues." (Wieandt offered his resignation from the CEO position in late March, citing differences with the government agency owning the bank. The company’s supervisory board accepted his offer with regret.)
Wieandt credits his Kellogg education with preparing him to take on challenges. Impressed by the school’s collaborative culture, international outlook and faculty, he enrolled in the One-Year MBA program in 1991 and graduated a year later. Wieandt also earned master’s and doctoral degrees in business administration from the Otto Beisheim School of Management (WHU), Kellogg’s partner school in Germany.
"Kellogg helped me develop a global perspective on many things, and it also helped me develop teamwork skills," he says. "And it trained me to analyze various situations relatively quickly — whether in the study group or classroom — and articulate my views."
Wieandt has found many opportunities to give back to the school. He chairs the Kellogg Alumni Council — Europe, Middle East and Africa, and in 2008 served as chairman of the school’s Centennial symposium in Zurich. He has been a frequent guest lecturer at WHU on financial intermediaries.
"It’s exciting to help strengthen the ties between Kellogg and the European business environment," Wieandt says. "I’m a big believer in close relations between academics and practitioners — such relations create a mutually beneficial environment."