Zachert to Replace Heitmann as Lanxess CEO in May

27.01.2014 -

In a surprise move late on Jan. 26, German chemicals, plastics and rubber producer Lanxess announced the resignation of Axel Heitmann, its chief executive since the company's split from Bayer in 2004.

Heitmann will step down with effect from Feb. 28, 2014. His former chief financial officer, Matthias Zachert, who took up the same position at German chemicals and pharmaceuticals group Merck KGaA in 2011, will succeed him "no later than May 2014." In the interim, Lanxess' current CFO, Bernhard Düttmann, will function as acting CEO.

Lanxess said the CEO's resignation was by mutual agreement. While remarking that Heitmann, 54, "played a key role in shaping the company since its creation through consistent restructuring and strategic portfolio measures," supervisory board chairman Rolf Stomberg said "Lanxess is facing significant challenges, for example, in terms of market capacities and business portfolio, and the board "believes it is the right time to hand over responsibility to a new leadership in order to overcome these challenges,"

The 46-year-old Zachert "performed excellent work as chief financial officer at Lanxess and has an outstanding reputation among employees as well as in the capital market," Stomberg said. Zachert also enjoys considerably popularity with investors and analysts, observers noted.

The board is said to have been unhappy with the current performance of Lanxess, world's leading manufacturer of synthetic rubber.  The weakness of automotive markets, customers for synthetic rubber, has hit the company hard. In September, Heitmann announced its "Advance" efficiency scheme that is expected to run until the end of 2015 and aimed at achieving annual savings of €100 million. It goes hand-in-hand with the loss of 1,000 jobs worldwide.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Lanxess - which recently moved headquarters from Leverkusen to Cologne, Germany - narrowed its guidance for full year 2013, forecasting EBITDA pre-exceptionals in the range of €710-760 million. The previous target was up to €800 million.

Commenting on Zachert's move back to Lanxess, Merck CEO Karl-Ludwig KIey, said his company is "losing a proven expert who during his three years at Merck has realigned the global finance organization and played a significant role in our transformation program 'Fit for 2018,'". Zachert had been seen as a potential successor to the 62-year-old Kley.

Merck's transformation process "continues unabated," Kley said. He provided no insight into the company's plans to for a successor to Zachert as CFO.