Westdeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale

I'm back again to see if Westdeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale (WestLB) can top the terrible reception extended to me four years ago. With over $350 billion in assets, 10,000 employees and representative offices in over 35 countries, WestLB considers itself one of the bigger fishes in the international banking world.

Four years ago I arrived in the lobby of the 11-story head office building and used the security guard/receptionist's phone to call up CEO Friedel Neuber's secretary to find out who ended up with my introductory letter. Another secretary answers the phone and says neither of Neuber's secretaries is around and next thing I know I'm being connected to a man who answers the phone with an abrupt "yes!" I identify myself and start to explain why I'm here but within 10 seconds he cuts me off with "were not interested". I then reply, "you haven't even let me explain what I do". Again answering as if annoyed he says, "we're not interested". I respond with, "I've come halfway around the world to visit your bank and you're dismissing me without even knowing what I do" "Yes", he replies. I ask for his name and title. "Michael Wilde, head of press", he answers. I tell him, "I've visited half a dozen other big banks in Germany including Dresdner, Commerzbank and Hypo-Bank and was well-received". He replies, "I don't care what they do". I remember leaving and mumbling the words "what a jerk!" to myself.

Built in 1974 and occupying a square block, the tiered building isn't in the most prestigious part of Dusseldorf and looks more like a government building. Then again, it is a government building since the bank is 43.2% owned by the State of North Rhine-Westphalia with the rest split amongst the Regional Association of the Rhineland, Regional Association of Westphalia-Lippe, Savings Banks and Giro Association of Westphalia-Lippe and Savings Banks and Giro Association of the Rhineland.

Four years later I return to the same large lobby and use the reception desk phone to call up CEO Friedel Neuber's secretary. No one's seems to know anything about the letter and I'm transferred to an unidentified man. I explain who I am and what I do. The man says he hasn't any time. I go on to explain how I was here four years ago and received the brush-off and was hoping someone would have 15 minutes. After several more minutes of practically pleading on my part he says, "just 15 minutes?" I assure him that's all I need and an appointment is made for tomorrow. I ask his name. "Michael Wilde", he answers. It's not until I'm on my bicycle riding off in the rain that the name "Michael Wilde" registers. It's that jerk who was so nasty to me four years ago!!

The next day I'm early for the appointment. Plenty of thoughts and questions are racing through my mind. How I'm going to react to this guy? Do I take him to task for what happened four years ago? Do I say nothing? What does this guy look like? I bet he's a heavy set man who smokes cigars. No, he's most likely a cigarette smoker and wears wing tips. No, I bet he's short, has a fake smile, dresses slick and has an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

After shaking hands we walk back to Wilde's office and start to go through the questions. His dismissive answers to my questions are done in a manner so as to make clear that what I'm doing is wasting his time. His fake smile reminds me of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. I end up telling him what happened four years ago and how unprofessional I thought he was in dismissing me so abruptly. Surprised by what I say Wilde offers an apology. My visit is over in less than 10 minutes. My request to see the CEO's office and boardroom is quickly shot down with "they're not open to the public".

About 1,000 people work here. Smoking is allowed in offices. Wilde describes the company's art collection as being contemporary. There's one cafeteria and guest dining rooms. Though my appointment was at 11AM, I knew before even arriving that Wilde wouldn't extend an invitation for lunch. It's five miles to Dusseldorf's airport and a mile to the nearest freeway. No employee perks here.

Wilde's business card reads "Vice President-Head of Press and Information Department" and I'm completely astonished to learn he's been with the company 27 years. I forgot to ask if WestLB conducts job performance reviews here.