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Peter Loescher (Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail)
Peter Loescher (Anthony Jenkins for The Globe and Mail)

THE LUNCH

Siemens’ Peter Loescher: The cleanup man who was swept aside Add to ...

Peter Loescher cuts a dashing and powerful figure. When I greeted him, he rose from his chair and kept rising until he seemed to fill the room. He is 6-foot-4 and so lean that he looks taller. He bears a passing resemblance to George Clooney, complete with pepper-grey hair and intense blue eyes.

Until the end of July, Mr. Loescher’s physical presence was more than matched by his corporate presence. That’s when he was fired as the CEO of Siemens, the engineering and technology giant that was described by chancellor Angela Merkel as a German “flagship.”

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Siemens, with 370,000 employees worldwide, makes everything from steam turbines to the trains that compete with Bombardier’s to magnetic resonance imaging machines and postal sorting systems. It is Europe’s answer to General Electric, and when its executive suite goes into turmoil, as it did in the summer, all of Germany reads about it with a fervour normally reserved for a Bayern Munich-Werder Bremen football match.

Indeed, Siemens rarely disappoints fans of the gory. Only a few years ago, the company suffered a near death experience when it admitted to one of the biggest bribery scandals in German history, one that Mr. Loescher was hired to clean up.

When we met on a warm, sunny day in early September, Mr. Loescher was still very much in the news. He had given no interviews since his exodus from Siemens a month earlier, leaving the press free to speculate about the motive behind the sacking. Sadly, my repeated and annoying (to him) efforts to get to the story behind the story and scoop the German press proved futile.

“I simply do not want to make any comment,” he said, before treating me to some home-spun philosophy. “I come from a mountain environment. I am Austrian. When you are mountaineering and you approach summits, there is only one way – to look forward and make sure the footing is solid. I’m thinking about the next 15 years.”

At the same time, he had a bit role in another story gripping the nation – the apparent career implosion of former Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann, one of the world’s best-known financial services bosses.

When I interviewed Mr. Loescher, Mr. Ackermann had just resigned as chairman of Zurich Insurance over the suicide of the company’s finance chief, Pierre Wauthier. His suicide note named Mr. Ackermann, leading to Zurich’s pledge to investigate whether the chairman had put too much pressure on Mr. Wauthier. While we did not know it at the time, Mr. Ackermann was about to resign from the board of Siemens, where he had, reportedly, played a key role in the ultimately futile effort to keep Mr. Loescher employed. Mr. Ackermann backed Mr. Loescher at first, then caved in and voted to oust him.

Mr. Loescher has friends in high places. I met him in the private offices of the chairman of Deutsche Bank, Paul Achleitner, in the late baroque Preysing Palais, which is attached to the monumental loggia known as the Feldherrnhalle (Field Marshall’s Hall). The hall was the scene of the Nov. 9, 1923 battle between Adolf Hitler’s supporters and Bavarian police that killed 20 and led to Hitler’s arrest two days later.

Mr. Loescher had installed himself in a small, unadorned meeting room on the sixth floor when his communications adviser and I, armed with a bag of warm croissants, arrived.

His friends say he is deeply saddened by his ouster from Siemens. If so, he hid it well. Mr. Loescher, 56, was enthusiastic about Siemens’ prospects and proud of his accomplishments during his six years as CEO. He tended to use the present tense, as if he were still running the show. For instance, when I asked him about his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he said: “The company and I have very good relationships with the core leadership. In all these markets you must have this.” (Siemens’s Russian portfolio went from one manufacturing site to eight under Mr. Loescher.)

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