Municipal Owners

Power Struggle Divides RWE

rwe-1 (3) Dpa, Imago, Action Press [M]
Duking it out: Manfred Schneider, supervisory board chairman (l) may be replaced by Manfred Müller (r). Mr. Schneider and CEO Peter Terium have long supported each other.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Municipalities own close to a quarter of shares in German utility RWE, so they have significant sway when it comes to the appointment of a new supervisory board chairman.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Manfred Schneider has been a member of the RWE supervisory board for 23 years, becoming chairman in 2009. He is stepping down in April 2016.
    • RWE’s unique power structure includes municipalities in the surrounding region, which have been involved in the utility since it was founded in 1898.
    • The municipal shareholders are backing Werner Müller for the job, who, as CEO of the RAG Foundation, is currently phasing out Germany’s hard-coal mining industry.
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    Audio

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Supervisory board meetings at RWE are never routine these days. The German energy giant is fighting for its survival in the wake of the collapse in electricity prices and the country’s transition toward green energy, known as the Energiewende. RWE’s share price has lost half of its value since the beginning of the year alone.

The next meeting, scheduled for Friday of next week, promises to be another exciting one. The company’s municipal shareholders, who control close to a quarter of all shares, plan to address the question of power and oversight at the firm, and will use the meeting to show their anger over the direction of RWE under current chief executive, Peter Terium.

Up for grabs is the position of chairman of the supervisory board, which dictates strategy for the company and has the power to hire and fire its executives. The current chairman, Manfred Schneider, is stepping down in April of next year, to coincide with RWE’s next annual shareholders’ meeting. He has found a preferred successor in Werner Brandt, a former chief financial officer of software giant SAP.

But the municipal shareholders are doing their utmost to obstruct Mr. Brandt’s appointment, as Handelsblatt has learned from one of their representatives. They believe that Mr. Brandt, 61, who currently heads RWE’s audit committee, is the wrong man for the job. “That would put two controllers at the top,” said the representative. “But we urgently need new ideas.”

Shareholders accuse Mr. Terium of merely reacting to the crisis by constantly implementing new cost-cutting programs, instead of coming up with a concrete vision for the future.

The municipal shareholders, which include powerful mayors, district administrators and association heads from the Ruhr region, favor a different man for the job: Werner Müller. A former economy minister, Mr. Müller currently serves as chief executive of the RAG Foundation, where he is helping phase out Germany’s hard-coal mining industry. They also want Mr. Schneider to speak with him.

 

Schroeder and Mueller ap
Municipal shareholders are backing Werner Müller (l), former economy minister under Gerhard Schroeder (r). Source: AP

 

In their view, Mr. Müller brings two characteristics to the table that RWE urgently needs but Mr. Brandt lacks. First, they argue, the former federal economy minister has the necessary political contacts to finally improve the underlying conditions for RWE. Second, as architect of the phase-out of coal, he has already demonstrated how to maneuver a company out of a desperate situation. The 2007 restructuring of German coal mining corporation Ruhrkohle led to the creation of chemical giant Evonik.

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