Akzo’s CEO Takes Leave for Fatigue Six Months Into Role

Akzo Nobel CEO Ton Buechner
Ton Buechner, chief executive officer of Akzo Nobel NV. Photographer: Tessa Posthuma de Boer/Akzo Nobel NV via Bloomberg

Akzo Nobel NV Chief Executive Officer Ton Buechner will take temporary leave after suffering fatigue less than six months after taking the helm of the world’s largest paintmaker.

The Dutch national, who took over May 1, will be off for one month to recuperate on the advice of his doctor, Amsterdam-based Akzo said today in a statement. He plans to return in the first half of October and Chief Financial Officer Keith Nichols will be the point person in the interim period.

Akzo shares fell the most in a year as the sick leave comes at a crucial time for the maker of Glidden and Dulux paint brands, with the 47-year-old putting the final touches to his strategic plan. Akzo had been preparing to unveil his vision to investors and analysts on Oct. 22, though that meeting in London has now been postponed until further notice.

“Until this news, he’d given a very good impression,” said Mutlu Gundogan, an analyst at ABN Amro. “If this could be more serious, it’s a bad thing. But if it’s just temporary, people will wonder whether he’s able to head the company’s transformation as there’s so much still to be done.”

Akzo shares fell as much as 5.7 percent to 46.07 euros in Amsterdam trading, the most since September 2011. The shares had declined 4.5 percent at 46.66 euros at 10:10 a.m. local time.

Track Record

Buechner joined Akzo’s executive committee at the start of the year, traveling globally to see operations spanning specialty chemicals, household paint and industrial coatings for passenger jets. He arrived after leading an overhaul at Swiss pumpmaker Sulzer AG.

At Akzo, he inherited a broad revamp needed to combat higher costs for raw materials such as titanium dioxide, used as a whitener in paint, and sluggish demand for coatings in Europe and the U.S. The overhaul, which includes reducing IT systems and cutting back on the number of raw materials aims to boost earnings by 500 million euros ($654 million) by 2014.

Buechner has indicated that his strategy would focus on operational improvement and building on strategic positions rather than making large portfolio changes.

His predecessor, Hans Wijers, spent a decade transforming the company into the world’s biggest paintmaker, competing against PPG Industries Inc. and Sherwin-Williams Co. in the U.S.

“When you’re travelling the world, airplane in, airplane out, building in, building out, it isn’t surprising for one to become ill at some point,” said Tom Muller, an analyst at Theodoor Gilissen Bankiers, who has a hold rating on Akzo.

Prior to today, Akzo shares had gained 21 percent since Buechner’s arrival bringing the market value of the paintmaker to 11.6 billion euros.

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