When German charter airline LTU was teetering on the brink of collapse last fall, management turned to Wolfgang van Betteray for help. Van Betteray, an insolvency lawyer, is known throughout Germany for his legal magic. In two weeks of intense talks with local bankers, politicians, and company executives, van Betteray negotiated a complicated deal that saved Dusseldorf-based LTU--and 2,300 jobs.
The rescue was one of more than 600 salvage operations that van Betteray's firm, Metzeler-van Betteray, has managed in the past 10 years. Now, the 55-year-old attorney has gone to work on his most challenging case yet: sorting out the financial mess left behind by the collapse of Munich-headquartered Kirch Group, now called Taurus Holding. When creditors insisted that Chairman Leo Kirch bring in an outsider to unravel his $5.6 billion in debt and sell off pieces of his empire, van Betteray was the natural choice. "He's a financial as well as a legal wizard," says one banker involved in the talks.
Admirers note that among van Betteray's skills is his ability to handle the political pressure that gets applied when any big corporation is at risk. "He can stand his ground with [Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund] Stoiber as well as with Kirch," says the banker. "If he can't make sense of Kirch, no one can."
A tax lawyer by training, van Betteray first came to national attention in 1996 when he managed the bankruptcy of Bremerhaven shipbuilders Lloyd Werft and Schichau Seebeck Werft. The city gave him a special service medal to say thanks. "Without him, our city would have lost thousands of jobs," declared Hans-Joachim Petersen, chairman of the Bremerhaven City Council, when van Betteray received his award in 1999. Thousands of Kirch employees, as well as politicians in Munich and Berlin, hope van Betteray can work his magic once more.