AkzoNobel N.V., the coatings behemoth that promises “tomorrow’s answers today,” revealed tomorrow’s CEO today (June 10).
The company’s Supervisory Board announced that chief executive officer Hans Wijers would step down next year.
What’s more, Wijers’ replacement will come not only from outside AkzoNobel, but from outside the paint and coatings industry: Ton Büchner is currently president and CEO of Swiss multinational Sulzer AG, which manufactures industrial machinery and equipment.
The changes, pending board approvals, would take effect at the company’s Annual General Meeting in 2012.
‘A Considerable Legacy’
Wijers, 60, joined AkzoNobel as a member of the Board of Management in October 2002 and was appointed CEO in May 2003.
A former Dutch minister of economic affairs, Wijers transformed the sprawling conglomerate—the product of a history of mergers and acquisitions—into a “focused, global market leader in coatings, specialty chemicals and sustainability,” said Karel Vuursteen, chairman of AkzoNobel’s Supervisory Board.
|Ton Büchner (left) is leaving Sulzer AG to take over for AkzoNobel CEO Hans Wijers next year.|
Wijers shed the company’s pharmaceuticals operations and grew its coatings business, overseeing the acquisition of coatings and specialty chemical company ICI in January 2008, then divesting ICI’s starch business and keeping its then-$613 million-a-year specialty polymers portfolio.
Recently, AkzoNobel has embarked on a strategy of accelerated, sustainable growth, aiming at $28.8 billion (€20 billion) in revenues in the medium term and year-on-year earnings growth.
“Hans has built a considerable legacy at AkzoNobel, which bears testament to his skills as a leader and businessman,” said Vuursteen. “He will leave behind a business which is both operationally and financially strong; capable of continuing to grow and to deliver real value to all stakeholders.”
‘Proven Strategic Experience’
Büchner, 45, a Dutch national, started his career as an offshore oil and gas construction engineer with Allseas Engineering in Europe and worked for AkerKvaener throughout Southeast Asia for several years.
He joined Sulzer in 1994 and has been CEO of the publicly traded company since 2007. His tenure included the presidencies of two divisions, Sulzer Turbomachinery Services and Sulzer Pumps. He was also Chief Representative and responsible for Sulzer operations in China.
Büchner graduated from Delft University of Technology with an MSc in Civil Engineering; gained an MBA from the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland; and attended the Stanford Executive Program in the United States.
Vuursteen said Büchner’s “proven strategic experience leading a public company, and his expertise in the global industrial arena, make him the ideal candidate for this role.”
“He also has an excellent track record of delivering strong results and experience of leading businesses in high-growth markets. We look forward to Ton joining us in January and building on the strong foundations left by his predecessor.”
The market gave the announcement a thumbs-up, pushing AkzoNobel’s stock up nearly 2% in early trading and, despite later dips, keeping it on track to outperform the broader Amsterdam market, Dow Jones Newswires reported.
Sulzer stock, meanwhile, lost 4.8% in value, and news of Büchner’s move could trigger a slide in its stock price, one analyst said.
Wijers, one of the Netherlands’ most prominent businessmen, did not disclose his future plans. Last year, the Dutch social-liberal party D66 floated his name for a Cabinet position if the party prevailed in the country’s general election. Despite the party’s victory, Wijers has said that he is not interested in returning to government.
With 57,000 employees and nearly $20 billion in revenues in 2010, AkzoNobel is the world’s largest coatings company and a leading chemical company. Specialty chemicals currently make up about 37% of its business; decorative paints, 34%; and performance coatings, 29%.
Formed in 1994 by Akzo’s acquisition of Nobel Industries, but rooted in a 17th-century forge operation, AkzoNobel today has dozens of brands, from A (Akucell) to Z (Zweihorn), among its multiple businesses. Marine and Protective Coatings brands include International Paint, Devoe, Chartek and AwlGrip. The Decorative Paints portfolio includes Glidden, Sikkens, Sico and Dulux. Powder coating brands include Interpon, Residex and Cromatex.
Despite its business focus, the company has reached outside the coatings industry for leadership before. Wijers came from the Boston Consulting Group, a global business consultancy. And Vuursteen, the Supervisory Board chairman who also joined AkzoNobel in 2002, hails from Dutch beer maker Heineken.