Leonhard Fischer may be a passionate collector of modern art, but the head of RHJ International has not added to the Belgian private equity firm's gallery of assets since he joined in late 2007.
Loss-making European carmaker Opel might not be your average masterpiece, but beating out heavily favored Magna to win the bid would be a master stroke for Fischer and his hitherto little-known European spinoff of U.S. leveraged buyout fund Ripplewood Holdings.
Colleagues say the 46-year-old Fischer has all the skills necessary to restructure the former General Motors unit successfully and sell the company off at a substantial profit. Lenny Fischer is highly intelligent and an excellent dealmaker -- someone who has a nose for where money can be made, said a person who knows the former banker well.
Some mistake the RHJ CEO's inherent distaste for fitting in with the mainstream as diva-like behavior, though.
He does not adapt himself to conventions, either in his thinking or his actions, the person added.
Fischer, who might be found wandering the museums and galleries in London in his spare time, is not just another suit who lives only for his job, according to a former employee.
People are quickly labeled, but you cannot reduce Lenny Fischer to a deal-obsessed investment banker. Just because he began as a trader at JP Morgan doesn't mean by a long shot that he is one forever, the ex-staffer said.
Born in a small German town near the Dutch border, the oldest of three siblings, Fischer was viewed as a wunderkind in the banking community, but this distinction may not always have helped when competing with other alpha male egos.
The youngest executive to enter the Dresdner Bank board at the age of just 36, he left after clashing with colleagues and was eventually hired by ex-Credit Suisse CEO Oswald Gruebel to overhaul the lender's Winterthur unit following a failed auction of the Swiss insurer.
There were a lot of people who wrongly believed that someone who came from investment banking over at Dresdner Kleinwort could not do it, but Fischer achieved this with bravura, his erstwhile employee said.
He earned high marks with the 12.3 billion Swiss franc ($11.5 billion) disposal of Winterthur to AXA, but was passed over in favor of Brady Dougan as successor to Gruebel.
Fischer defected to RHJ, where Ripplewood founder Tim Collins was in need of a proven turnaround specialist with strong experience in Europe's financial services industry.
He now works out of a small Zurich office that complements the roughly dozen people in the Brussels headquarters of RHJ, which has about 60 percent of its invested capital in three main auto parts suppliers -- none of which made Automotive News's last annual ranking of the world's 100 biggest parts suppliers.
Despite his connections in Berlin and Frankfurt, Fischer's first big deal fell through 12 months ago when German state development bank KfW picked U.S. private equity group Lone Star over RHJ to buy stricken lender IKB -- the country's first subprime casualty.
RHJ's audacious bid for Opel comes at a time when German politicians have condemned risk-hungry investment bankers, hedge funds and leveraged buyout firms for the casino capitalism that led to a near meltdown in the financial system last year.
Fischer himself offered a very frank reckoning of his craft in April when he admitted in a Handelsblatt interview that his industry had collectively disgraced itself.
We failed in our most important field, risk management, and indeed to a degree that is very difficult to grasp, he said.
In the last 15 years, it was a widely held assumption that one could model the risks of a complicated investment product or a bank's balance sheet with the same precision and forecasting probability as scientific processes. This over-mathematisation was a colossal and catastrophic failure, Fischer concluded.
While GM's chief Opel negotiator has signaled he could sign a deal with RHJ immediately, the private equity firm still needs to convince Germany to dump its support for Canadian group Magna and fork out as much as 3.8 billion euros ($5.41 billion) in state aid.
Berlin already jilted RHJ once in May, reportedly after Fischer offered a politically incorrect explanation why a company with no experience building cars wanted to acquire Opel.
Pointing to the billions in likely guarantees, he was reported to have said candidly: We had a look at the asymmetric distribution of risks and then decided that we could wager this bet.
(Reporting by Christiaan Hetzner and Edward Taylor in Frankfurt and Phil Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Rupert Winchester)