FRANKFURT — Ever since he was a 38-year-old Goldman Sachs executive helping to auction off bankrupt East German factories, Paul Achleitner has been known as a relentless modernizer shaking up Germany's sleepy corporate world.
Now Mr. Achleitner is being cast in a new role: the man responsible for the sorry state of one of Germany's most important industries.
Mr. Achleitner has been the chairman of Deutsche Bank's supervisory board since 2012, overseeing the company's top management and signing off on major business decisions. As the bank stumbles from one crisis to the next, investors blame him for the missteps that have brought the company to one of the most perilous moments in its nearly 150-year history.
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It is the latest blow to the reputation of a man who had been one of Germany's most renowned bankers since the fall of communism. Mr. Achleitner is increasingly viewed as responsible for a series of ill-fated mergers and questionable decisions over the past two decades that have left Germany, and indeed all of Europe, without a serious rival to the likes of Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase.
Even today, Mr. Achleitner — who is not German, but Austrian — embodies corporate Germany. In addition to his role at Deutsche Bank, he sits on the oversight boards of three other blue-chip German companies, including the automaker Daimler. Friends and acquaintances describe him as a master networker who is quick to reply to text messages and has a knack for making people feel important.
Mr. Achleitner's wife, Ann-Kristin Achleitner, a professor of business at the Technical University of Munich, also sits on the supervisory boards of several large German corporations. They are one of Germany's premier power couples.
But Mr. Achleitner's grasp on power appears increasingly tenuous.
When Deutsche Bank's shareholders gather for the company's annual meeting on Thursday, one of the items on the agenda will be a motion to oust Mr. Achleitner.
Mr. Achleitner is expected to survive, at least for now, protected partly because the bank's chief executive, John Cryan, was ousted just last month. The departure of Mr. Achleitner could throw the bank into even greater turmoil.
Mr. Achleitner, who declined to comment for this article, should be given "one last chance," Institutional Shareholder Services, which advises investors on how to vote, said in a report this month. Removing Mr. Achleitner could distract the supervisory board from "the truly precarious situation at hand: the entire future strategy and survival of the bank."
Mr. Achleitner made a name for himself in the 1990s when the German government was selling assets like chemical factories that had belonged to the Communist government of East Germany.
Other German bankers turned up their noses. But Mr. Achleitner, who was the first native German speaker to run Goldman Sachs in Frankfurt, recognized an opportunity. He used the assignment to forge political and corporate ties and establish Goldman as a player in Germany.
Mr. Achleitner's approach paid off in 1994 when Deutsche Telekom, the German telephone monopoly, prepared to sell shares to the public for the first time. The German government chose Goldman Sachs to be one of three banks handling the large share sale, alongside Germany's Dresdner Bank and Deutsche Bank.
Goldman's lead role came as a rude awakening to the German banks, which had taken it for granted that they would share such transactions among themselves. That led Deutsche Bank in particular to hastily bulk up in investment banking to fend off foreign competitors.
One fateful result was Deutsche Bank's purchase of Bankers Trust in 1998 for $10.1 billion. The transaction instantly made Deutsche Bank a presence on Wall Street, as well as the biggest bank in the world by assets. Goldman Sachs advised Deutsche Bank on the transaction, with Mr. Achleitner playing a supporting role as head of the Frankfurt office.
The Bankers Trust deal was troubled from the start. The price was considered steep for a bank that had recently suffered a series of scandals, including accusations of selling derivatives without warning customers about the risks.