Poisoned Chalice? Hunt on For New RWE Chief

The Supervisory Board chairman of Germany's power utility RWE, Manfred Schneider, is looking for his successor. It's a tough role to fill, with the company in crisis, a troublesome board and quarreling unions.
RWE CEO Manfred Schneider's job will soon be up for grabs.

 

It is anything but an attractive job description. For a start, the candidate has to run a German blue-chip company that has fallen from grace like no other. Profits are melting away, liabilities are high, the share price in the dumps – and a strategy to climb back out of the crisis is nowhere in sight.

The new chairman will head up one of Germany’s most trying supervisory boards in Germany. He will have to deal with the “normal” shareholders in addition to public representatives from the powerful Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region, who all want to maintain their privileges in the company. On the employee side's side, there are two trade unions at each other’s throats at the moment.

Manfred Schneider, the current chairman of the board at Germany’s second-largest utility RWE, knows very well the challenges his successor will be facing.

The former Bayer CEO has been on the board since 1992, and chairman since 2009.

He will step down at next year’s general meeting of shareholders and the 76-year-old will have to settle his legacy by then.

He plans to reorganize the supervisory board and present the panel with a suitable candidate as his own replacement.

Mr. Schneider had already groomed a successor. It was ex-Allianz CEO Paul Achleitner. But his ideal candidate took on an equally tough task as chairman of the supervisory board at Deutsche Bank in 2012 and left the RWE control committee.

Ever since, Mr. Schneider has been doing a lot of thinking. Several candidates were brought to his attention. Public representatives at the company suggested the head of the RAG Foundation, Werner Müller, as a candidate. But the question is whether the busy ex-politician will be able to steady the crisis-shaken energy company?

Mr. Schneider eyed up some other candidates himself, including Wolfgang Reitzle, the ex-chief executive of the industrial gas and engineering company Linde. They had worked together for years while Mr. Schneider was chairman of the supervisory board at Linde. But it looks like he has not managed to win Mr. Reitzle over for the position at RWE.

He would prefer to have a pragmatist than a financial genius anyway – someone who will actively support company chief executive Peter Terium in searching for new business opportunities.

The new legal quota for women managers taking effect in 2016 means RWE needs to hire female members for the supervisory board. Right now, of the ten shareholder representatives, only one is a woman.

From the ranks of the board itself, the former head of the Federation of German Industries, Hans-Peter Keitel, would likely be an option. He has been under consideration for some time now and also has longstanding connections to RWE. He headed up the construction company Hochtief back when RWE was still its majority shareholder. But according to information from sources associated with the supervisory board, Mr. Keitel would probably not be Mr. Schneider’s ideal choice. He would be more of a compromise, if Mr. Schneider is unable to win over any of the external applicants.

Mr. Schneider himself did not wish to comment.

The chairman also aims to leave behind a well-balanced board for his successor.

After all, this is not the only position opening up. Other members of the Supervisory Board are said to be leaving: Former ThyssenKrupp chief executive and current chairman of the German steel maker and industrial conglomerate, Ekkehard Schulz, is likely to be leaving as well. Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche, who is also a Supervisory Board member, is also said to be thinking about whether he should really stick around for a new term.

At the same time, Mr. Schneider would like to curb the power of the local companies and take away one of their seats on the board. In addition, he is also interested in extending the contract of RWE's chief executive, Peter Terium, this summer.

To top off the to-do list, the new legal quota for women managers taking effect in 2016 means RWE needs to hire female members for the supervisory board. Right now, of the ten shareholder representatives, only one is a woman.

 

019 WTB new version

 

Jürgen Flauger is based in the Handelsblatt Düsseldorf bureau. To contact: [email protected]