New Management Beleaguered Bilfinger Taps Swissport Boss

The German engineering group Bilfinger has picked the Norwegian manager Per H. Utnegaard to lead the troubled company out of its present difficulties, according to Handelsblatt sources.
What if we stick solar panels on top?

The long search for a new leader for Bilfinger has come to an end, industry sources have told Handelsblatt.

Supervisory chairman Eckhard Cordes plans to present the Norwegian manager Per H. Utnegaard to the beleaguered engineering and construction firm’s board next Tuesday.

Bilfinger refused to comment on the issue, saying only that it was holding discussions with potential candidates.

The 54-year-old Mr. Utnegaard is currently the head of Swissport International, the world’s largest airport services company, based in Zurich. He will have his work cut out for him at Bilfinger, which shocked investors last year with several profit warnings.

The Mannheim-based firm’s woes forced the departure of ex-chairman Roland Koch, the former premier of the German state of Hesse.

Mr. Utnegaard has plenty of international experience at globally operating concerns. He has been the head of Swissport, which has 55,000 employees at 260 different locations around the world, since 2007. With some 700 customers in the airline industry, the company had sales of €2.8 billion, or $3.19 billion.

The company’s energy division is cause for concern, as more and more companies in Germany stop investing in the fossil fuel power plants that Bilfinger services.

Mr. Utnegaard has an MBA from Northern Michigan University. He began his career at Sharp Electronics in Oslo and later worked as a manager and consultant in Europe and the United States. After stints in the logistics sector, he took the helm of the cargo division for the Swiss railway SBB before eventually joining Swissport.

A family man who enjoys skiing and motocross, Mr. Utnegaard earned his first money as a child by collecting deposit bottles near a soccer stadium, according to the Swiss newspaper Handelszeitung. Asked by the paper what he considered success, Mr. Utnegaard answered: “Reaching ambitious goals with the employees fills me with joy.”

The Norwegian manager will have his ambition put to the test at Bilfinger. The company’s energy division is a particular cause for concern, as more and more companies in Germany stop investing in the fossil fuel power plants that Bilfinger services. The country is switching to renewable energy sources, leading to a boom in solar and wind power.

That has displeased Bilfinger’s large Swedish shareholder Cevian Capital, which believes the company is right to shift from construction to industrial services, but didn’t have the right management to achieve it. Cevian started to put pressure on the board last year for new leadership.

Bilfinger’s new chief financial officer will be Axel Salzmann from the German broadcaster Pro-Sieben-Sat-1, according to Handelsblatt information. The 56-year-old executive worked for many years at Dutch electronics company Philips. Later he became the financial officer for wireless telecom O2 Germany. He has watched over the TV group’s finances since June 2008.

He is considered a straight-talker, who can also be harsh. “Mr. Salzmann is a team player, who needs his team,” said a colleague. He is also considered financially independent after receiving a bonus of €12.8 million in the summer of 2014. He will replace Joachim Müller, who has been partially blamed for Bilfinger’s profit warnings last year.

 

Hans-Peter Siebenhaar, Katrin Terpitz and Georg Weishaupt are reporters for Handelsblatt. To contact them: [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected]