Billionaire Vekselberg Cleans Swiss House With CEO Shake Up

  • Russian billionaire reassigns Loescher at Renova Group holding
  • Vekselberg had previously changed CEO at Switzerland's Sulzer

Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg is cleaning house at his Swiss industrial holdings.

On Tuesday, he dismissed the chief executive officer at OC Oerlikon Corp AG, leaving Chairman Michael Suess to explain he “wasn’t the right man” for the job. Earlier in the week Vekselberg gave Peter Loescher a new title at his Renova Group holding company while a change at the helm at Sulzer AG of Switzerland came three months ago.

The overhaul in top management comes amid a slowdown in China and a slump in oil and gas markets that have dented business at the Swiss holdings of Vekselberg’s Renova Group, the biggest shareholder in machine-maker Oerlikon and in Sulzer, a pump and mining drill manufacturer. Both Swiss companies are struggling to overcome the dip with Oerlikon unveiling a plan Tuesday for a new strategy.

Renova Group’s representative Andrey Shtorkh declined to comment on Oerlikon management changes, saying they were decided by the board. Former Siemens AG manager Roland Fischer was named chief executive officer, replacing Brice Koch, giving the company its third CEO in as many years.

“Brice has done a good job. But he’s not the right man for the next stage of development at the company,” Chairman Suess said on a conference call.

Swiss Expansion

After founding Renova in 1990 and accumulating interests in Russia’s oil, gas and aluminum industries, Vekselberg bought stakes in Oerlikon in 2006 and Sulzer the following year as part of expansion outside his home country.

The Russian citizen, who makes regular appearances at the World Economic Forum in Davos, spends some of his time in Switzerland. With a net worth of $12.7 billion, according to Bloomberg’s billionaires index, he also controls Russia’s largest holding of regional airports and has a stake in the country’s biggest aluminum producer.

Oerlikon shares fell as much as 5.6 percent, the most in three months, and were down 2.9 percent at 9.52 Swiss francs at 1:44 p.m. in Zurich. The company reported a net loss of 418 million Swiss francs ($419 million) compared with a profit of 202 million francs in 2014.

At Sulzer, Greg Poux-Guillaume took over as CEO on Dec. 1 after Klaus Stahlmann quit the post in August when the company announced a streamlining of capacity in Brazil, the U.S. and China as well as job cuts. Renova earlier this week confirmed a reassignment of Loescher, the former Siemens CEO hired in February, 2014 to head Renova Management AG. Loescher is now deputy board chairman rather than delegated CEO.

Europe’s biggest engineering company Siemens is a common thread among some of the changes at the Swiss companies. Fischer, formerly head of Siemens’s power-and-gas division, is tasked with putting the Swiss maker of textile machinery on a “new strategic direction,” Oerlikon said.

He will work with Chairman Suess, who headed Siemens’s energy operations until May 2014. Oerlikon proposed re-electing Suess, Gerhard Pegam and Hans Ziegler to the board of directors at the annual shareholder meeting on April 5. The remaining three members have decided not to stand for re-election and nominations for the positions will be announced later, the company said. Two of the changes are for “technical reasons,” Suess said on the call.

Vekselberg’s Renova holds holds 63 percent of Sulzer and 44 percent of Oerlikon, according to the company’s website.

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