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Thyssenkrupp Inches Toward Breakup as Top Leadership Departs

Both the chief executive officer and chairman, opponents of splitting up the sprawling conglomerate into what investors think would be more valuable parts, have resigned this month.

After losing its top leadership in less than two weeks, it’s looking more likely that Thyssenkrupp AG could be headed for a breakup, although much rests on the next move of the company’s largest shareholder.

Both the chief executive officer and chairman, opponents of splitting up the sprawling conglomerate into what investors think would be more valuable parts, have resigned this month. Activist investors, including Cevian Capital, have pressured management to streamline the 207-year-old German company with operations in submarines, elevators and food packaging.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. said the departure of Chairman Ulrich Lehner and CEO Heinrich Hiesinger will fuel hopes that a restructuring can progress faster.

“Lehner had been one of the most vocal naysayers around a potential breakup, thus, if anything, this is likely to reinvigorate, rather than dampen, hopes that this will now be the course for Thyssenkrupp,” wrote Bruna Haq, an analyst at JPMorgan.

The shares rallied 6.7% to 21.98 euros as of 10:13 a.m. in Frankfurt. The stock has declined 9% this year, valuing Thyssenkrupp at 13.7 billion euros (US$16 billion).

The appointment of the next CEO or chairman could signal which direction the company is headed. Thyssenkrupp’s powerful labor unions, which control half the seats on the supervisory board, and its largest shareholder, the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen and Halback Foundation, have continued to argue for keeping the company together.

Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Rochus Brauneiser said it was too early to tell what the impact of Lehner’s resignation would be, adding the key was in the hands of the foundation.

Other analysts said the leadership turmoil increases the odds of a radical overhaul. While Thyssenkrupp’s revenue has slumped in recent years, analysts say a spinoff of its highly profitable elevator division could bring value to investors.

“In my view, it makes a break-up more likely. Lehner had been very vocal in his opposition to major divestments,” said Ingo Schachel, an analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

Lehner stepped down as chairman on Monday, saying he had lost the confidence of major shareholders and the board. Last week, Lehner gave an interview to Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper in which he blasted investor attempts to “destabilize” the company with methods that resemble “psychological terror.”

At a recent meeting to discuss the deal with Tata Steel Ltd., Lehner clashed with fellow board member Ursula Gather, head of the foundation, because she suggested the company mull other options and reconsider the terms of the steel joint venture, according to people familiar with the matter.

Hiesinger, the previous CEO, unexpectedly quit on July 5. Thyssenkrupp has named Guido Kerkhoff as interim CEO while it searches for a new leader.

By William Wilkes

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