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Press hammers former ABB executives

Lindahl (left) and Barnevik have been crucified by the Swiss media swissinfo.ch

Newspapers have shown no mercy to two former CEOs of the ABB power and automation technology group for receiving massive pay-offs upon retirement.

This content was published on February 14, 2002 - 14:03

The ABB surprise board announcement on Wednesday that Percy Barnevik and Göran Lindahl of Sweden had received a total of SFr233 million ($137.22 million) has provoked general disgust.

It has also fuelled the debate about salaries and benefits to top managers who fail and leave their companies before the end of their contracts with handsome payoffs.

"These two gentlemen had the cheek to cash in on SFr233 when they left. Two shameless profiteers," comments the "Berner Zeitung".

"They have badly damaged the image of all managers. Their profiteering is totally unintelligible," it adds.

"Swedish scroungers"

Most of the criticism is reserved for Percy Barnevik who was given SFr148 million when he gave up his post of CEO in 1996.

Under the headline "Two Swedish Scroungers," Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine" recalls that in the 1990s, Barnevik was a "globalisation guru" on almost every podium at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

"Hardly ever before has a stellar manager turned into a shady character so quickly," the paper comments.

The "Financial Times" of London describes it as a "harsh farewell" for Barnevik and hardly the present he would have wanted to celebrate his 61st birthday party.

"Not only has the huge sum caused consternation in egalitarian Sweden but it also strikes at his reputation as a champion of better corporate governance," it feels.

Under a cloud

The "Tages Anzeiger" of Zurich turns on Göran Lindahl, who netted SFr85 million when he left the company under a cloud.

"We are used to the limitless greed on the floors of management, even when the amounts shock us every time - but what does one really do with SFr85 million?" it wants to know.

Geneva's "Le Temps" calls for more openness on the subject of managerial pay.

"Only publication of individual payments would ensure a transparency capable of discouraging abuses and strengthening investors' confidence in Swiss companies and their management," it comments.

The "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" says that it cannot recall a shock of such dimensions in the history of leading Swiss companies.

ABB: Self-service shop

It comments that up until recently ABB had been a "self-service shop" for the key figures within the group and that the scandal will have far-reaching consequences.

"It is only right to congratulate the current board of directors for the partial "coming out" but it begs the question how such a shameless profiteering could come about," the paper feels.

The name of billionaire Swiss financier Martin Ebner, an ABB board member, crops up in several of the papers, with the observation that perhaps he was one of the leaders seeking restitution from Barnevik and Lindahl to show that the ABB ship is not veering off course.

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine" believes that major ABB shareholder Ebner has a score to settle with Barnevik.

"But Mr Ebner has been on ABB's supervisory board for some time, and it appears even less credible that this billionaire should pretend to be the advocate of the man on the street who fears for his job while others line their own pockets," it believes.

There was far less comment in Thursday's newspapers on the $690 million losses that ABB announced on Wednesday for last year.

by Robert Brookes

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