Germany is beginning to grasp the notion that shareholders have rights, thanks largely to Ekkehard Wenger, a maverick professor of banking and finance at the University of Wurzburg. Wenger attended his first annual meeting out of curiosity in 1987 and has been haranguing managers for neglecting shareholders ever since. "It angers me to see how much of shareholders' money is wasted," he declares. "It forces me to react."
Wenger, 43, has targeted Germany's elite, including Deutsche Bank and Daimler Benz executives. He sometimes hits a raw nerve. Two years ago, he was tossed out of Daimler's annual meeting because his persistent questions bothered Deutsche Bank CEO Hilmar Kopper, who chairs Daimler's supervisory board.
Wenger wants to shake up German business culture by forcing banks to scale back equity holdings in companies and beef up disclosure. His campaign has helped spur a new law banning insider trading in Germany and stricter rules for companies and banks to disclose equity stakes.
In July, he prevailed in a court case in which brewer Marz Group was told it could not withhold a final dividend to minority shareholders of a beer subsidiary it had sold. But Wenger is unhappy with a new voluntary code meant to protect minority shareholders in takeovers. It's a "fig leaf" to delay real reform, he says.
For years a lone wolf, Wenger has recently been joined by several new shareholder groups. He's glad they're making German managers squirm. Annual meetings haven't been just intellectually interesting, says Wenger. They've been a "form of cabaret." Now, though, those meetings promise to be downright stimulating.