Thyssenkrupp’s interim chairman says structure is not sacrosanct: Focus

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Thyssenkrupp’s (TKAG.DE) workers are prepared to do their part in the ongoing restructuring of the embattled conglomerate, its interim chairman and trade union secretary Markus Grolms told a German magazine.

FILE PHOTO: Thyssenkrupp’s logo is seen close to an elevator test tower in Rottweil, Germany, September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo

Thyssenkrupp’s conglomerate structure has been heavily criticized by some shareholders who argue that a more focused set-up would unlock value, stoking fears among workers that the company could be broken up.

“Of course we are prepared to help shape changes. For us no organizational structure is sacrosanct,” Grolms told Focus magazine in an interview. “Over the past seven years, the group – with the approval of the labor side – has sold a dozen enterprises with about 70,000 employees.”

“What matters to me is whether something like that makes economic sense and can be realized in a way that is fair to employees,” said Grolms. “We are opposed to the logic of exploitation, which implies the sale of valuable parts to fund a special dividend for shareholders.”

Grolms, of trade union IG Metall, is heading Thyssenkrupp’s supervisory board until a permanent successor can be found for former Chairman Ulrich Lehner, who resigned in July over what he said was insufficient backing from the committee.

Grolms, who Focus said moved into Lehner’s office at the start of August, said there was a high level of uncertainty among workers in light of the current crisis, which also included the resignation of CEO Heinrich Hiesinger and a profit warning.

Shareholders Cevian and Elliott have been impatient for change and want more radical restructuring of the elevators-to-submarines group.

The nomination committee of the company’s supervisory board is currently working on finding a successor to Lehner.

Grolms is not a member of the committee but he said the issue was still keeping him occupied around the clock: “We are preparing ourselves for a debate about the company’s strategy.”

Grolms said any candidate should be able to live with the fact that Thyssenkrupp is a company whose different owners have their own ideas about its future and whose employees, too, have justified claims.

“If I could make a wish I would appoint a person who can skillfully draw these threads together,” he said.

Reporting by Christoph Steitz; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Elaine Hardcastle

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