Swiss bosses bow out in favour of younger managers

ABB chief, Goran Lindahl, is to step down at the end of the year Keystone

Some of Switzerland's biggest companies this year handed over control to younger bosses. Top-level changes took place at several firms, among them UBS, ABB, Sulzer and Ciba.

This content was published on December 26, 2000 minutes

High-level departures are commonplace in the United States, and now it seems the trend is taking hold in Switzerland, following a year of resignations at some of the country's top firms.

In Switzerland, such departures are usually presented as amicable partings by all concerned, but the scale of this year's resignations suggests that companies are demanding more from their CEOs and getting rid of them if they fail to deliver quickly.

The biggest boardroom shock of the year came with the announcement that 55-year-old Goran Lindahl would be stepping down as head of the Swiss-Swedish concern, ABB, after 30 years at the company and four at the helm.

He is to be replaced by the Swede, Jörgen Centermann, 48, who will oversee the company's continuing transition from a heavy industry and power generation firm to a technology-focused group.

In another high-level reshuffle, it was announced in October that the chairman of UBS, Alex Krauer, 69, would step down a year earlier than planned.

Krauer was brought in as interim chairman to sort out the bank's affairs after it lost nearly SFr1 billion ($600 million) in the 1998 scandal surrounding the Long-Term Capital Management Hedge Fund in the United States.

He is being replaced by the current CEO, 50-year-old Marcel Ospel.

More significant is UBS's decision to replace top managers with overseas personnel. Ospel will be succeeded by Luqman Arnold, 50, of Britain, who is currently chief financial officer. Another proposal, to be put before shareholders on April 26, 2001, is that the board be internationalised.

Another high-level change, which had been foreseen, took place at Sulzer last April, when Pierre Borgeaud handed over control to Ueli Roost. Borgeaud then took over as boss of Sulzer Medica.

Sulzer later saw its bid to merge with Sulzer Medica quashed by shareholders. It is also undergoing a painful restructuring to divest itself of five mainly technological divisions so it can concentrate on medical devices, as well as surface and materials technology.

Ciba Specialty Chemicals also got a new boss, in the form of Armin Meyer, 51, formerly of ABB. He takes over from Rolf Meyer (no relation). No reason was given for the change.

Compared to the United States, where more than 40 of the country's top CEOs were axed in 2000 (according to the Economist), Swiss companies are still relatively secure places.

However, reshuffles are becoming more frequent as shareholders demand more say in how firms are run. Fortunately, like their counterparts across the world, CEOs almost always have generous severance packages waiting for them at the door.


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