Winkeljohann to Succeed Wenning as Bayer Board Chair

Leadership change to take place following agm

  • Winkeljohann (left) to Succeed Wenning as Bayer Board ChairWinkeljohann (left) to Succeed Wenning as Bayer Board Chair

Bayer has appointed Norbert Winkeljohann to replace the retiring Werner Wenning as chairman of the German company’s supervisory board with effect from the end of the annual general meeting on April 28.

Wenning, 73, who has been chairman since 2012, has announced he will step down after the meeting. He had been elected to serve until 2022 after having his term extended last year.  However, the former Bayer CEO (April 2002 to September 2010) said he had agreed to stay on “in view of the company’s situation at that time.”

Although Wenning did not explicitly point to the ongoing legal dispute over Monsanto’s controversial Roundup herbicide as the “situation,” many comments on his departure after 50 years at Bayer touched on it. Some media outlets thought he was “bailing out” amid the growing lawsuit count, which has now risen to around 43,000.

Bayer is now widely expected now to settle out of court for $10-12 billion, although insisting earlier it would see the trials through and was confident it would prevail.

Since August 2018, when it lost the first US lawsuit claiming that Roundup caused the plaintiff’s cancer, the company’s shares have lost about a quarter in value. In the meantime the pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals produceer has lost three lawsuits, all of which are on appeal.

Chairman-designate Winkeljohann, who is a former CEO of auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) Europe, has been a member of Bayer’s Supervisory Board since May 2018. Some called the choice of a company outsider surprising as Bayer – as most of the German chemical industry – has traditionally proposed one of its own former CEOs for the chairman’s job.

Other commentators remarked, however, that it could be useful to have a chairman without a dedicated industry focus. In any case, Bayer doesn’t have an ex-CEO to spare, as current officeholder Werner Baumann is not ready to retire, and moreover has both hands full defending the US litigation. At the 2019 shareholders’ meeting he felt the heat over management’s handling of it.

“Since joining the Bayer supervisory board, Norbert Winkeljohann has worked diligently to familiarize himself with the Bayer group’s structures and businesses,” said board’s vice chairman Oliver Zühlke, who represents employees.

This also applies to the collaborative social partnership that has served Bayer so well,” he added.

The board seat Winkeljohann will vacate if elected is planned to be taken by Horst Baier, 63, formerly CFO of German travel industry giant TUI Group. Baier would also succeed Winkeljohann as chairman of the audit committee.

Among his many other roles at Bayer since joining the company as a commercial trainee, Werner Wenning also spent three years in corporate auditing. Coincidentally, US litigation marked both ends of his terms as CEO and board chairman. He took over as CEO amid the disputes over the cholesterol drug Lipobay/Baycol.

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