ABB Shake-Up

CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer steps down suddenly; another example of industrial conglomerates in flux

In the latest example of major industrial conglomerates experiencing flux with their corporate sides (see: GE, Siemens, Emerson) ABB announced the sudden resignation of CEO Ulrich Spiesshoffer on Wednesday. While being in the top position at ABB for six years, Spiesshofer was a public presence and had implemented a number of changes to the company’s structure and image.

Replacing Spiesshofer in the interim will be Peter Voser, who is currently chairman of the board at the Zurich-based tech-industrial giant. ABB said an official search to find a permanent replacement “has been initiated” in a press release Wednesday.

Spiesshofer’s resignation is reportedly a “mutual agreement” between the 55-year old who championed both grid technology and smart manufacturing innovations, and The Board of Directors of ABB. Mr. Spiesshofer had held the position of CEO since 2013.

Bloomberg reported that Spiesshofer’s abrupt departure was motivated by pressure from shareholders—with whom he had publicly disagreed with and who specifically were “unimpressed” by his recent decision to split the company’s power grid unit by selling part of it to Hitachi for $6.4 billion. The Bloomberg assessment also mentioned the positive reception by investors to the move.

Spiesshofer’s departure comes a few months after he announced the sale of ABB’s power-grid division to Hitachi Ltd. for about $6.4 billion, leaving the manufacturer more focused on robotics and automation. The breakup pushed by activist investor Cevian Capital was long resisted by the outgoing CEO, and on Tuesday another shareholder Artisan Partners urged the firm to go a step further by splitting out its electrification business.

Peter Voser: “On behalf of the Board and the employees of ABB, I would like to personally thank Ulrich for his dedication and commitment to ABB’s customers and employees, not only as CEO, but also in other executive roles at ABB since 2005. Under his leadership, ABB has been transformed into a global technology leader focused in digital industries. He strategically repositioned the company and built up growth momentum across all businesses. We wish him all the best for his future endeavors.”

ABB is the parent company of Baldor Electric Motors, the Fort Smith, Arkansas-based pillar of that section of the industry.

Voser added: “We will continue to focus on implementing ABB’s strategy and delivering value to all our stakeholders. To achieve our key financial targets, we will proceed with the divestment of ABB’s Power Grids business as planned, simplify the organizational structure of the group and deliver cost savings. Finally, our four new leading businesses will be fully dedicated to meet our customer needs for digitalization, electrification, automation and robotics.”

Ulrich Spiesshofer: “After 14 years of ‘all in’ dedication and commitment to all our employees and customers, I hand over to Peter a trimmed ABB ship that is on a clear course and gaining speed. I would like to warmly thank our colleagues around the world, customers and partners as well as the Board of Directors for the opportunity to serve this fine company for nearly one and a half decades in different roles in the Executive Committee and as CEO. I will now take some time out before deciding on the next chapter of my professional life. From the bottom of my heart, I wish ABB’s global team all the very best for its future.”

Peter Voser, a Swiss citizen, has been Chairman of ABB since April 2015. Prior to this, he was CEO of Royal Dutch Shell from 2009-2013, and CFO between 2004-2009. Between 2002 and October 2004, he was CFO of ABB and a key leader behind the successful turnaround of the company. Voser also brings a wealth of experience in board positions in leading companies such as a Roche, IBM, Catalyst, Temasek Holdings and PSA International in Singapore.

ABB will hold its Annual General Meeting on May 2, 2019, in Zurich, as planned.

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