When Anshu Jain hired a former Deutsche Bank employee at Cantor Fitzgerald in 2018, his bitterness about his former employer briefly flared up. “Let’s sit down and talk for 15 minutes about our time at Deutsche,” he told his new colleague. “Then don’t mention this topic ever again.”
Jain, who died this month at the age of 59 from cancer, for two decades was a towering figure at Germany’s largest lender, rising through the ranks to become its first non-white, non-German speaking chief executive in 2012, only to resign three years later.
Described as “the best fixed income banker of his generation” by a colleague, he spearheaded Deutsche’s conquest of Wall Street — a mission that for some 15 years was spectacularly successful but ended in an existential crisis that haunted the bank for years after Jain’s departure.
Born in Jaipur, India, in 1963, he grew up in Delhi where his father was a civil servant and where he studied economics at Shri Ram College of Commerce. He left India to study for an MBA at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. His formative professional years were spent at Merrill Lynch in the early 1990s, where he met the late Wall Street legend Edson Mitchell, a chain-smoking capital markets genius known for his robust leadership and flamboyant lifestyle.
In 1995, Mitchell was poached by Deutsche and took Jain with him. Under the influence of his mentor, Jain established a hard-charging style on the trading floor, pushing people to price deals more aggressively, but also to walk away if they turned out not to be economic for the bank.
Mitchell’s Darwinian approach characterised Jain’s management of the investment bank. To the irritation of some colleagues, he would often set up different teams to focus on very similar areas of business, just to have them compete against each other.
“Anshu was a killer. He always had a knife between his teeth,” remembers one of his lieutenants. “He had this motivation to succeed, to learn, to jump around.”
However, Jain, father of two children, never adopted the flamboyant lifestyle that was the norm in the brash, male-dominated world of investment banking at the time. A life-long vegetarian who met his wife Geetika when he was 17, he had no interest in extravagant spending.
“Those were wild days, but Anshu was very shy,” said a female banker who was hired by Jain.
“He was the fairest boss I ever had. He did not judge people by their religion, race or gender,” she said, adding that performance was the only dimension that was relevant.
“Anyone who worked with Anshu experienced a passionate leader of intellectual brilliance,” said Deutsche chief executive Christian Sewing, praising “his energy and loyalty to the bank”.
An avid cricket and golf player, Jain spent much of his spare time watching wildlife in Africa where he honed his skills as a photographer. In his office at Deutsche Bank, alongside a portrait of Mitchell, were large pictures of tigers that he had taken himself.
The biggest unanswered question of his career is why the man consistently described as one of the smartest bankers of his generation fundamentally misjudged the impact of regulatory changes on the business after the financial crisis.
Regulators gradually dismantled Deutsche’s high-risk, high-return business model as they imposed ever more stringent capital requirements, cracked down on leverage and pushed for tighter internal controls.
Other investment banks scrambled to slash their trading units, but Jain argued that the post-crisis slump was just a blip. He had seen how, after the Asian crisis of 1998, Merrill Lynch axed fixed income trading and its emerging markets unit and then lost out on the rebound a few years later. According to one his confidants, he was determined not to do the same mistake.
“As CEO, he pursued a ‘last man standing’ strategy that I found wrong and dangerous,” said a senior regulatory official who dealt with Jain at the time. The official added that this was one of the reasons why BaFin, the German regulator, in 2015 pushed hard for his removal as CEO.
His exit came as a surprise to Marcus Schenck, who joined Deutsche as chief financial officer six months before Jain’s departure. “He was one of the key reasons why I had joined Deutsche,” Schenck told the FT, describing Jain as “very inspiring, impressive and ingenious”.
Schenck had been lured by Jain’s ambition to turn Deutsche into a stronger European challenger to its American investment banking peers. “That was what he was fighting for,” said Schenck.
His personal reputation suffered amid a series of misconduct probes and billions in ensuing fines for Deutsche. However, BaFin cleared him personally over the allegation that he had lied to the regulator. Any doubts about his personal integrity were “fundamentally wrong”, insists a longtime Deutsche colleague and friend. “He was misguided and made mistakes,” the person said, pointing to Deutsche’s “unbalanced growth” that only focused on the investment bank. “He was a man of integrity, a man of his word and always had a sense for intelligent and emotional interactions.”
Less than two years after leaving Deutsche, Jain joined Cantor Fitzgerald as president. Friends and colleagues were perplexed when he accepted a job at a firm that was much smaller than Deutsche. Jain told friends that he hoped to create an investment banking powerhouse at Cantor Fitzgerald, without the cumbersome restrictions that a large institution like Deutsche faced.
When he was diagnosed with duodenal cancer and told by his doctors he had just a year to live, he blamed Deutsche and the stress his job had caused for his illness, according to a confidant. Jain dealt with his illness as he did all the professional challenges he had faced in his career: by analysing the problem, trying to fix it and then looking forward.
He conducted “exhaustive personal research” into the rare but fast-spreading cancer, his family said, adding that he outlived his initial diagnosis by four years. He never lost his optimism. Even 36 hours before his death, he texted a concerned friend that rumours of his demise were “greatly exaggerated”.
Additional reporting by Patrick Jenkins in London.