Q&A with Andreas Kaufmann Leica CEO: Restructuring 80 percent done

In an exklusive interview with Handelsblatt.com, Andreas Kaufmann, owner and CEO of Leica Camera AG, talks about the sacking of former CEO Steven K. Lee and Leicas plans regarding the M- and R-system. Kaufmann points out that he has a lot of patience regarding Leica. "Our commitment in Solms has a long term perspective", Kaufmann says. "We do not want to make a fast buck here."

Handelsblatt: Mr. Kaufmann, you said four years ago restructuring Leica would be a marathon. Has it turned into an iron man triathlon?

Andreas Kaufmann: I don´t think so. With regard to the restructuring of Leica we have made much better progress than it might appear. In February we broke up with our former CEO Steven K. Lee. But all our projects are on track, and all our employees are still aboard. We´ve reached a point where you don´t have to have a headache because of the company any more. There is no doubt that restructuring Leica is a marathon. But 80 percent of the distance lies behind us. The sudden change in leadership is unusual, of course. But we had good reasons to do this.

Such as?

We noticed that Leica and Lee are not such a good match. And we drew our conclusions.

What exactly did not match?

While Mr. Lee was in charge things happened which must not happen in a company. I cannot give you any details since there will probably be a lawsuit.

This means you haven´t settled the matter amicably?

We made a compensation offer which we considered attractive. The deadline for accepting the offer has passed. We keep in touch with his lawyers. We pointed out to them how we could imagine to improve our offer. Right now the layers are discussing the topic. We´re pretty relaxed, after all.

Leicas turnover decreased in the forth quarter of 2008. Did you anticipate this or was it a negative surprise?

I do not want to discuss things done by the former CEO. But as you can imagine there are reasons for our decision. I want to stress one important point: The decrease in turnover did not hurt our cash- or ebit-position. I think we´re operating very conserverative in this respect.

What was the reason for the decreasing turnover?

Well, if you keep telling your customers ever changing stories about the M8, they lose confidence. I do not think this is a good thing to do. We´re going to point out to our customers that the M8 is a long term project for us.

What are your plans regarding the digital M-system?

We developed a program which makes clear: The M8 is not a transition product. The evolution of the M-system stays on track. Of course we will introduce a follow-up to the M8 eventually. There is a lot of speculation going on about when and how we will do that. I´m not going to comment on those rumors today. But you can assume that our project managers as well as our product manager and our research department are working at full throttle.

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