Frankfurt gives 'Turbo' nicknameto new Bundesbank chief

3rd August 2004, Comments 0 comments

3 August 2004 , FRANKFURT - The new president of Germany's central bank, Axel Weber, has gained the nickname "Turbo-Weber" during his first 100 days in office because he likes to get things done fast. Weber, 47, a former economics professor, moved fast to make his presence felt in Bundesbank departments. "The Bundesbank is once again influential in monetary policy," said Ulrich Kater, chief economist at Deka Bank. "He's the right man in the right place." Sunday marks his first 100 days in office. The Frank

3 August 2004

FRANKFURT - The new president of Germany's central bank, Axel Weber, has gained the nickname "Turbo-Weber" during his first 100 days in office because he likes to get things done fast.

Weber, 47, a former economics professor, moved fast to make his presence felt in Bundesbank departments.

"The Bundesbank is once again influential in monetary policy," said Ulrich Kater, chief economist at Deka Bank. "He's the right man in the right place." Sunday marks his first 100 days in office.

The Frankfurt banking industry has allowed for a few beginner's blunders and is broadly agreed that the new chief has halted the long-term slide of the once-mighty Bundesbank towards insignificance.

Since the launch of the euro in January 1999, monetary policy has been decided by the European Central Bank (ECB) where the Bundesbank is just one voice among many. Other central banks were jealous from the start that the ECB headquarters were in Frankfurt.

As a member of the 18-person governing council of the ECB, Weber had to quickly establish himself as one to be listened to.

"They respect his expert knowledge and his clear pronouncements on monetary issues," commented Ulrich Ramm, chief economist at Commerzbank.

His academic background has proved a bonus for Weber, who was previously an economics professor at the University of Cologne. He is the first president to move directly from a university post into the job, rather than arrive via a political career.

At his induction at the end of April, the eighth - and youngest ever - Bundesbank chief faced a tough assignment: restoring the bank's reputation as an elite institution that is above reproach.

His predecessor, Ernst Welteke, was forced to leave under a cloud after admitting he and his family had accepted a New Year's holiday in Berlin's most luxurious hotel from Dresdner Bank, one of the business banks the Bundesbank is supposed to supervise.

The plain-talking professor with the penetrating blue eyes arrived as a complete contrast to former politician Welteke, and immediately set a new course distinguished by economic insight and hard work.

"My purpose is to see to it that the public deservedly perceives the Bundesbank to be competent, committed and reliable," he said soon after his appointment. Since then he has worked 14-hour days and shown he wants things done right, down to the last detail.

Commentators say Weber has a knack for saying what he means, rather than clouding his words as other bankers sometimes do.

Previously one of the council of economic advisers to the German government, he used his inauguration speech to scold the policies of Finance Minister Hans Eichel and call on Berlin to apply austerity.

Weber, who is not a member of any political party, was thus able to demonstrate independence right from the start, and restore the bank's aura as guardian of the European Stability Pact. 

Although Weber had no previous experience as chief of a large organization, he proved skilful in June in fending off allegations that Bundesbank staff were helping themselves to real estate.

After claims in the media that the bank had bought luxury homes and let them to executives at below-market rates, Weber ordered bank staff to work right through the weekend collating information.

As the new week began, Weber released the facts to the media, and the allegations promptly evaporated. 

"Weber dealt with the mud-slinging superbly. He demonstrated his policy of transparency and clean hands," said Gertrud Traud, a financial analyst at Bankgesellschaft Berlin.

Within the executive board, Weber has also achieved the right touch, extracting a commitment from all members to a strict ethics code that ensures none may accept gratuities and hospitality of the sort that ended Welteke's career.

Internally there is much still to be done, since Weber's key task is to shrink the bank in line with its reduced range of duties.

By 2007, one third of its payroll will have been eliminated, leaving 11,000 staff. 

Not everything Weber has done has won applause. He annoyed the rest of the ECB governing council when he gave an interview that appeared to suggest he would not stick 100 per cent to ECB monetary policy.

Some insiders complain that Weber tends to lecture them like a professor would, others say he is so determined to get results that he forgets his staff may not be able to work such long days or may not share his excitement.

Weber, who is married with two children, appears unfazed by such criticism.

His favourite relaxation is going trout-fishing.

Asked what makes him really upset in life, the keen jogger replies: "Not very much, and usually private things, like being seven minutes over when I try to run a four-hour marathon."

DPA

Subject: German news

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