Jim Hagemann Snabe recently made quite an impression on the top management of German engineering giant Siemens.
During an annual meeting for high-level executives in Berlin, the former SAP co-chief executive gave a blazing speech in favor of digitalization. A “great performance,” said a Siemens manager who attended the panel.
As a member of Siemens’ non-executive supervisory board, Mr. Snabe is known to be committed and ask the right questions.
Now the Dane is looking at a promotion. Mr. Snabe is tipped to become the new supervisory board chairman when Gerhard Cromme leaves next year. Investors are backing Mr. Snabe, someone with knowledge of the matter told Handelsblatt.
Mr. Cromme will likely name Mr. Snabe his heir apparent during this Wednesday’s general meeting, if all the other members of the board approve him later on Tuesday.
Officially, Mr. Snabe would only be elected much later. But the company is looking for a clear signal about succession on the supervisory board, which has the power to hire and fire executives and gets a say in overall strategy.
Since German software giant SAP is active in network manufacturing too, some have thought this to be a conflict of interest – a former SAP executive now advising Siemens.
Mr. Cromme, who is 73 and will leave the company in 2018, was under pressure to manage his succession. The Siemens supervisory chairmanship is his last big gig, and Mr. Cromme planned to only deal with finding a successor in time for next year’s general meeting in order to not be considered a lame duck during his last year, sources said.
But both investors and management insisted on an earlier decision.
“It’s high time,” said Daniela Bergdolt of the private investors association DSW. “You can’t just pull your successor out of a hat.”
Siemens chief executive, Joe Kaeser, likely will be interested in an early decision too, since his contract could potentially be extended beyond 2018 starting this summer.
The engineering firm is considered a rather complex company, so the new chairman would have to be someone already familiar with Siemens. Supervisory board members Werner Wenning and Norbert Reithofer declined, since both already head the boards at Bayer and BMW respectively. “That’s why Mr. Snabe was the obvious choice,” said someone with knowledge of the supervisory board.
Many consider the Dane, who has been on Siemens non-executive board since October 2013, a sound choice. “It’s a gain for Siemens,” said Andreas Föller, founder of the personnel consultancy Comites.
Among Germany’s blue-chip companies, SAP is the most successful when it comes to digitalization.
Ms. Bergdolt too said that Mr. Kaeser was looking to make Siemens a frontrunner in the realms of Industry 4.0 and networked factories, adding: “Mr. Snabe will be the right partner for that.”
Mr. Snabe studied business and finance, and is considered an expert on digitalization.
Siemens sees itself as a global leader in industrial software and wants to defend that position. In November, the firm announced the purchase of U.S. software company Mentor Graphics for $4.5 billion.
Since software giant SAP is active in network manufacturing too, some have thought this to be a conflict of interest – a former SAP executive now advising Siemens. But investor representatives on the supervisory board don’t see it as a problem.
Mr. Snabe started as a consultant with SAP in 1990 and made it onto its management board. In 2010, he became co-chief executive together with Bill McDermott. Sources said Mr. Snabe was always professional and not ego-driven during the turbulent times at the helm of SAP. Someone who used to work with him but didn't want to be named said the Dane is “sophisticated and polite."
That’s no reason to underestimate Mr. Snabe though, said a consultant, adding: “Even polite people can be tough at the right time.”
In 2014, Mr. Snabe made the shift from management to the SAP supervisory board, leaving Mr. McDermott as the sole chief executive.
With Mr. Snabe’s move to chief supervisor, the influence of former SAP executives across German blue-chip companies is growing. Former CFO Werner Brandt heads the supervisory boards of utility RWE and entertainment and media firm Pro Sieben Sat1, while former SAP chief executive Henning Kagermann is on the boards of BMW, Deutsche Bank and insurer Munich Re.
Axel Höpner is Handelsblatt's Munich bureau chief. To contact him: [email protected]