Henning Schulte-Noelle

Chief Executive, Allianz

With his silvery hair and sober suits, Henning Schulte-Noelle doesn't look much like a revolutionary. Yet the chief executive of German insurance giant Allianz (AZ ) single-handedly transformed Europe's financial landscape on Apr. 2 when he unveiled plans to spend $20 billion acquiring the 79% of Dresdner Bank that the Munich-headquartered underwriter doesn't already own.

The landmark deal creates a financial-services behemoth, with almost $1 trillion on its books. And because the acquisition unravels the cross-shareholdings between Allianz and reinsurer Munich Re, it marks the beginning of the end for Germany Inc., whereby many large companies own shares in one another and tend to underperform as a result. The deal will trigger a much-needed consolidation in banking and insurance. "We are laying the foundation for a crucial realignment in German financial services," Schulte-Noelle says. If so, the repercussions will be felt across the European Union.

Schulte-Noelle used to insist that insurers and banks shouldn't own one another because they serve different markets. But Europeans are now pouring money into long-term savings products, while reforms in Germany will soon encourage millions of savers to take out private pensions. Merging with Dresdner will allow Allianz to market its products through the bank's 1,200 branches. And Schulte-Noelle hasn't finished the shopping spree. "We are thirsty for deals," he says. Watch for more revolutionary moves.

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