ThyssenKrupp on Monday announced the departure of its chief executive Martina Merz, who had been leading the German conglomerate’s restructuring, triggering a 13 per cent drop in its shares.
The sudden departure of one of the few female CEOs on the German DAX comes amid increasing criticism over the lack of progress of the long-ailing group’s disposal programme.
ThyssenKrupp said on Monday that Merz was expected to leave before the end of next month without offering a reason. The supervisory board has tapped former Siemens executive, Miguel Ángel López Borrego, who currently heads German automotive supplier Norma Group, as her successor.
Supervisory board chair said that Merz had “initiated a fundamental change process at ThyssenKrupp with great commitment and expertise”.
Merz, who took the conglomerate’s helm in 2019, had been trying to drive through a radical restructuring plan in order to reduce its mounting debt and turnround the struggling business.
One of her first moves as chief executive was to sell ThyssenKrupp’s elevator business to private equity firms in a €17bn deal. The disposal was to be followed by spin-offs of ThyssenKrupp’s naval and steel divisions, but these processes have dragged on with investors growing wary of Merz blaming delays on the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and rising inflation.
ThyssenKrupp last month revived plans to sell its submarine and maritime systems unit — a process that had in the past been put on hold over concerns in Berlin about potential foreign ownership of an asset important to Germany’s national defence.
At the same time, Merz faced fierce criticism from employee representatives, who make up half of the company’s supervisory board, over the delays in the restructuring of the group’s steel unit. They argued that there were no “concrete plans” on the steel unit nor ThyssenKrupp’s stake in the Hüttenwerke Krupp Mannesmann plant.
“There has been a lack of an overall concept from the board for months. Nothing has changed since last autumn and time has been wasted again unnecessarily. This is not acceptable!” said a memo issued to employees, seen by the Financial Times.
One person close to management said that Merz’ departure risked derailing plans to sell ThyssenKrupp’s steel unit — which was the original activity of the group — amid growing pressure from unions to ensure that jobs are protected.
But Merz on Monday said “promising talks have been initiated with possible partners” over the steel unit.