Linde AG (LIN) said Wolfgang Buechele will become chief executive of the German industrial-gas supplier, taking the former private equity executive to a company where he was once one of its most important clients.
Buechele, 54, will start at Linde on May 1, replacing retiring Wolfgang Reitzle, the Munich-based company said. In the two years since leaving Linde customer Borsodchem Zrt of Hungary, the German national has built his reputation at Helsinki-based water-treatment chemical maker Kemira Oyj. (KRA1V)
Buechele, who held executive roles at Permira, Blackstone and BASF SE (BAS), is joining Linde as it battles Air Liquide SA (AI) for the top spot in the industry supplying gases such as oxygen to welders and hospitals. Reitzle, 64, turned Linde from an equipment company to a specialist in the field, trebling its share price in the decade he held the job.
“It is very hard to follow Reitzle,” said Stuttgart-based Landesbank Baden-Wuerttemberg analyst Ulle Worner, who recommends buying Linde shares. “He’s made them into a focused gas company, taken them away from being a diversified industrial player. They’re now a world leader.”
Reitzle sold under-performing assets and acquired larger industrial gas company BOC Group Plc in 2006. Germany’s benchmark DAX index has less than doubled during his tenure.
In a similar vein, Buechele has had his own hand in corporate turnarounds and mergers. At Kemira, Buechele orchestrated a companywide revamp to hone the focus on more profitable areas for water treatment, including the mining, paper and oil-drilling sectors. Quitting the board of BASF in 2008 after less than a year, he took on roles at Blackstone and Permira, which owned isocyanate maker Borsodchem.
Reitzle has completed $21.8 billion in takeovers at Linde, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, including the acquisition of BOC and last year’s $3.8 billion purchase of respiratory-therapy provider Lincare Holdings Inc.
The German company in December 2006 completed the 4 billion-euro disposal of its Kion forklifts business to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR) & Co. and Goldman Sachs (GS)’s private equity unit as it focused on gas and engineering services. Kion Group AG (KGX) sold shares for the first time publicly this year. Reitzle also severed ties with the company’s roots by selling the refrigeration division to United Technologies Corp. (UTX) in 2004.
Linde is targeting operating profit of at least 4 billion euros in operating profit, which the company defines as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, and is seeking a return on capital employed of about 14 percent in 2016. The company is pursuing savings intended to cut as much as 900 million euros in costs.
“Reitzle is leaving behind a well set up company,”Worner said. “Buechele is very well-known inside the industry, with a great deal of experience that he can bring.”
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