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Commerzbank Departure

Leaving So Soon?

VonYasmin Osman, Sven Afhüppe and Christopher Cermak

Martin Blessing's announcement that he will leave Commerzbank next year has plunged Germany's second-largest bank into a leadership vacuum. There's no clear successor for the bank, which remains partly government owned.

Martin Blessing, 52, has been chief executive of Germany’s second largest bank since May 2008. dpa

Come back, Mr. Blessing!

Martin Blessing, 52, has been chief executive of Germany’s second largest bank since May 2008.

Martin Blessing has been considering his future for quite a while now. Should he end his turbulent seven-year term at the helm of Germany’s second largest bank? Or keep going for just a few more years?

Mr. Blessing reached his decision literally at the last minute. Commerzbank’s supervisory board, which has the power to hire and fire managers, had planned to offer him a contract extension at a meeting on Wednesday. Instead, Mr. Blessing announced Sunday that he would step down when his  current term ends in October 2016.

It marks a major setback for the bank’s chairman and former chief executive, Klaus-Peter Müller, who hand-picked Mr. Blessing to succeed him in 2008 and who sources say had lobbied heavily in the last few weeks to convince him to stay on a few more years.

The resignation also opens up a massive leadership vacuum at a key time for Germany’s second largest bank, which is nearing the end of an impressive – but fragile – turnaround since the financial crisis.

Commerzbank earned €853 million in the first nine months of this year, according to quarterly results released Thursday. That’s 60 percent more than the same period last year. The bank is also set to pay a dividend in 2016 for the first time since 2007.

A successor to Mr. Blessing is currently nowhere to be seen. That’s because Mr. Müller had hoped he wouldn’t have to find one. He was prepared to roll out the red carpet for Mr. Blessing to stay, and began discussing an extension back in September. Sources say that both managers, shareholders and employee representatives were behind the move.

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