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Executives face stormy AGMs

Hüppi survived a no confidence motion Keystone Archive

Tempestuous annual general meetings for two of Switzerland's best-known companies dominated the business headlines this week.

This content was published on May 18, 2001 - 16:22

The country's biggest travel operator, Kuoni, held its AGM on Tuesday against the backdrop of a bitter boardroom battle.

The company's suspended chairman, Daniel Affolter, was physically prevented from chairing the meeting.

The action was seen as a symbolic victory for board members seeking to topple Affolter. They accuse him of awarding himself payments of millions of francs from the Kuoni and Hugentobler foundation, which controls the travel group.

Another embattled chief executive, Rolf Hüppi, fared a little better at the AGM of the insurance company, Zurich Financial Services.

Hüppi survived a confidence vote with a two to one majority, despite fierce criticism from shareholders upset by a drop in earnings in 2000 and poor prospects for the current year.

Hüppi did not hide the fact that the company still faced many challenges ahead. He said the insurance arm was performing well but that asset management continued to be a problem area.

The chairman of Swissair, Mario Corti, pulled off a coup this week by agreeing a deal to make the Swiss carrier the official airline of the International Olympic Committee.

Swissair said it will gain a large slice of the Launsanne-based IOC's travel budget through the agreement and will also be able to use the IOC logo in marketing materials.

Rolf Schweizer, chairman of the specialty chemicals group, Clariant, is to stay on for another 12 months because the company has failed to find a successor.

Schweizer was due to retire at Wednesday's AGM after reaching the age limit of 70, but shareholders asked him to stay on to steer the company through a radical transformation which will see Claiant concentrate on its core business.

The country's biggest bank, UBS, reported a heavy drop in its first quarter net profit on Tuesday blaming less favourable economic and market conditions. The bank's earnings for the first three months of the year were SFr1.579 billion, down 29 per cent compared to the same period last year.

There was better news for the country's biggest telecommunications operator, Swisscom, which posted higher than expected first quarter figures.

Operating income was up 5.7 per cent to SFr1.21 billion. The company said increased efficiency and higher traffic was behind the performance. But it maintained its forecast of lower operating income for the year as a whole although profits should be higher because of asset sales.

And finally, traders on the stock market may have to work a little harder from next month.

The Swiss stock exchange said this week that it plans to extend trading hours by one hour and open on Swiss holidays when it launches its pan-European blue chip trading platform next month.

by Michael Hollingdale.

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