No Ordinary Oma 80-year old CEO ready to pass the baton after corporate raider leaves

Now that activist investor Guy Wyser-Pratte left satellite maker OHB, the German Mittelstand company's 80-year old founder can take a much needed break.
Don't call me granny.

Christa Fuchs, the 80-year old founder of the German satellite company OHB, and American activist investor Guy Wyser-Pratte never saw eye to eye. “He must have thought: It's an old woman and her son - we'll need to send some real managers over there," Ms. Fuchs says.

But Ms. Fuchs is no typical oma. She bought OHB with her late husband in 1982. At the time, the company specialized in naval maintenance. Now it's one of Europe's three leading satellite manufacturing companies. Her 55-year old son, Marco Fuchs, is CEO.

He said Ms. Fuchs was too old to serve as chair of OHB's supervisory board, and that her son was not qualified to be CEO.

Mr. Wyser-Pratte, known for raiding European companies, took an interest in the Bremen-based OHB, which also makes reconnaissance satellites for the German armed forces and rocket components, in the summer of 2017. It acquired 1 percent of the company’s shares. Afterwards he started applying pressure on the company via letters, saying Ms. Fuchs was too old to serve as chair of the company's supervisory board, and that her son was not qualified to serve as CEO. "I perceived this as a personal attack," Ms. Fuchs says.

But Ms. Fuchs refused to fall prey to his bullying; confident that her business acumen was a major reason why the company reported sales of €700 million and pre-tax profits of €38 million in 2016. She had ambitions to reach €1 billion in sales by 2018. So she stayed in her role, as did her son. The resoluteness paid off: The investor jumped ship after less than a year, selling his shares in December 2017 after the company’s share price doubled.

Now that he’s gone, Ms. Fuchs can step back. On her 80th birthday, she symbolically handed over the chairmanship of the supervisory board to Robert Wethmar, an attorney and a member of OHB’s board since 2012.

But Ms. Fuchs is not ready to give up the reins completely. "I'll stay as long as I can," she tells Handelsblatt.

Christoph Kapalschinski covers consumer goods, textiles and food for Handelsblatt. To contact the author: [email protected]